NORFOLK, Virginia – A Virginia Beach man pleaded guilty today to cable fraud and fraudulent collection of federal unemployment benefits.
Officials say Ronald A. Smith, 59, pleaded guilty to an Internet scam that deceived approximately 1,700 victims out of $ 1,287,000. He also pleaded guilty to a separate charge of fraudulent collection of unemployment benefits during the coronavirus pandemic.
According to court documents, Smith and his wife and co-accused Terri Beth Miller, 53, have started a company called Business Development Group. The company was an Internet-based business that offered, in return for an advance, to help individuals prepare loan applications for SBA-guaranteed loans.
Court documents indicate that they falsely claimed to be a large multi-state corporation, headquartered at the Trump Building in New York with additional offices in Las Vegas, Nevada, and that they were affiliated with the SBA. They offered a money back guarantee, but actually used various fraudulent methods to deny refunds.
Officials say Smith and Miller solicited about 1,700 clients, who paid about $ 1,287,000 up front. The vast majority of these clients have not received a loan guaranteed by the SBA. In fact, Smith has done next to nothing to attempt to secure loans for his clients.
The documents indicate that Miller and Smith had several fraudulent methods to deny refunds to BDG customers. “Some customers seeking reimbursement were simply ignored for months and many simply gave up. Other customers requesting refunds have been threatened with legal action, ”the documents say.
Smith was convicted of almost the same scam in 2006 and was sentenced to seven years in prison.
Additionally, Smith pleaded guilty to submitting a bogus claim to the Virginia Employment Commission for unemployment benefits, including an additional $ 600 per week in federal unemployment compensation in the event of a pandemic permitted under the CARES Act. Officials say Smith received $ 9,600 in federal unemployment benefits for a pandemic to which he was not entitled.
Smith pleaded guilty to wire fraud, criminal property money transactions and emergency benefit fraud.
He faces a maximum penalty of 60 years in prison upon his conviction on April 2, 2021.