Seminole County

Central Florida man pleads guilty to $7.2M COVID-19 relief fraud

ORLANDO, Fla. — (AP) — A Central Florida man who fled the U.S. and was eventually arrested in Croatia has pleaded guilty to stealing more than $7.2 million in COVID-19 relief funds.

Read: DOJ to mobilize strike teams to go after COVID-19-related fraud

Don V. Cisternino, 46, of Chuluota, pleaded guilty Tuesday in Orlando federal court to wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and illegal monetary transaction, according to court documents.

His hearing is scheduled for Jan. 5 where he could face up to 32 years in federal prison.

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As part of a deal with prosecutors, Cisternino has already agreed to forfeit the money from the fraud, as well as any assets connected to the crimes.

According to the plea agreement, Cisternino fraudulently secured more than $7.2 million in emergency funds through a Paycheck Protection Program loan in May 2020.

Cisternino’s PPP loan application falsely claimed that his business, MagnifiCo, had 441 employees and monthly payroll expenses in 2019 of more than $2.8 million.

Read: People who haven’t gotten COVID-19 may be virus ‘super-dodger,’ doctors say

The company actually had no employees other than Cisternino.

Along with his loan application, Cisternino submitted false W-2s, many of which listed the names and Social Security numbers of real people who had not authorized him to use their identities.

After receiving the money, Cisternino spent it on a Lincoln Navigator, a Maserati, a Mercedes-Benz and a 12,579 square-foot home in Seminole County.

Read: Man accused of selling bleach as COVID-19 cure through his Florida-based church extradited to US

Cisternino fled to Switzerland after learning he was being investigated for fraud in January 2021, officials said.

He was arrested in April that year pursuant to an Interpol Red Notice while trying to enter Croatia from Slovenia by way of Italy. He was later extradited to the United States.

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