Ellen Corkrum pleads guilty to fraud for stealing $6M in COVID relief funds

Ellen Corkrum of Fulton County has admitted she stole more than $6 million of funds designated to help businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

Ellen, 49, of Roswell, pleaded guilty to submitting six fraudulent applications for Paycheck Protection Program loans between April and June of 2020, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia Kurt R. Erskine said. VanPelt used false financial records from multiple companies to secure more than $6 million in PPP loans, investigators said.

Federal agents were able to seize about $2.1 million of the money she received from the fraudulent loans, Erskine said. FBI seizes nearly $2 million from Roswell firms accused of PPP fraud

Ellen, who legally changed her name to VanPelt in July 2016, submitted PPP loan applications under both her current and former names, Erskine said. She applied for loans for six different companies she owns or controls: Georgia Nephrology Physician Associated; United Healthcare Group & Co.; Nephrology Network Group LLC; First Corporate International; Corkrum Consolidated Inc.; and Kiwi International Inc.

In each PPP loan application, Ellen (VanPelt) falsely represented the average monthly payroll and number of employees working for each company, Erskine said. She also included false IRS records and bank statements. In total, VanPelt requested nearly $8 million in PPP funds and was awarded a little more than $6 million.

PPP loans are granted from a COVID-19 relief fund established by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The forgivable loans are meant for small businesses to encourage job retention and can be used for payroll costs, rent, utilities and interest on mortgages.

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This is not the first time VanPelt has been accused of defrauding a national government. She was formerly a high-ranking government official in the African nation of Liberia, according to reports.

She was previously indicted in Liberia under her previous name on multiple charges related to corruption and financial fraud, according to FrontPage Africa, an independent newspaper based in Monrovia.

VanPelt was appointed as the managing director of the Liberia Airports Authority before she was indicted in 2013 on charges of economic sabotage, criminal facilitation, conspiracy to defraud the government, and making unauthorized transfers of funds from government accounts, FrontPage Africa reported.

According to a 2011 interview in The Citizen, the Harvard Kennedy School’s student newspaper, VanPelt said she was a Black Hawk helicopter pilot in the U.S. military before becoming a commercial airline pilot. She had gotten her MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management and planned to join the Liberian government once she finished her Masters in Public Administration at Harvard, she said. Though she was born in Liberia, VanPelt said she is a U.S. citizen.

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Less than a year after VanPelt’s charges were dropped by a Liberian court, according to FrontPage Africa, she pleaded guilty to bank fraud in the U.S.

“VanPelt brazenly exploited this devastating national emergency for personal gain, and she is now being held accountable for her fraudulent conduct,” Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division said. “PPP funds should be reserved for legitimate businesses and their hard-working employees who have suffered economically as a result of the pandemic.”

“The Paycheck Protection Program helps businesses keep their workforces employed during the COVID-19 crisis,” Erskine said. “When these funds are diverted by fraud, such as in this case, workers and the businesses that employ them unfortunately suffer.”

VanPelt’s sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 4 before U.S. District Judge Mark H. Cohen.

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