The Queensbridge Houses may be the largest public housing development in America, but when asked, residents of 41-18 Vernon Blvd were confident that a multi-million dollar film company wasn’t located inside their NYCHA apartment building.
“Not out of this building. Silver Cup operates out on this street. Now that’s a big company,” said a longtime resident of the building who only wanted to be identified as “Cooper.”
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 31-year-old Joel Peralta-Gutierrez used his personal address at the Queensbridge Houses to fraudulently file for $1.7 million in federal coronavirus relief as part of the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program.
“Lying to gain access to economic stimulus funds will be met with justice,” stated SBA-OIG Special Agent-in-Charge McCall-Brathwaite.
Apartment 4B was listed on multiple websites as the business address for J Films HD Inc., which was allegedly used by Peralta to file for PPP loans.
On Tuesday night, no one answered the door at that apartment.
According to federal prosecutors, Peralta claimed he had 62 employees working for his company and had a monthly payroll of $700,000.
“Peralta, as alleged, took advantage of the Paycheck Protection Program, which was created to provide emergency financial assistance to businesses who need it during the pandemic,” stated FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Sweeney.
In reality, authorities said Peralta’s company had one employee and total revenue that did not exceed $50,000.
“Peralta-Gutierrez claimed falsely that he needed government loan benefits to pay his employees during the pandemic, but instead deliberately lined his own pockets with $1.7 million,” stated Acting United States Attorney Lesko.
Queensbridge residents were shocked to hear that one of their neighbors had allegedly been part of such a scam.
“I didn’t expect that from someone living in Queensbridge,” said Darren Bryant, a Queensbridge resident.
“That’s insane. I mean, even if he was a Robin Hood, like take money from the rich and share with the poor, it’s still kinda messed up,” said Kenneth Gaviria.
Peralta’s neighbors were perplexed at how he was able to pull off the scam, which allegedly began in the summer of 2020.
The FBI was listed as one of the agencies that investigated the alleged fraud on a press release about the charges against Peralta.
When asked about the fraud, a spokesperson for the U.S. Small Business Administration said that the SBA does not comment on individual borrowers but explained that there are measures taken to ensure applicants qualify for help.
“PPP applicants make necessary certifications on their applications that they are eligible to receive PPP loans. Furthermore, PPP applicants also certify they understand that making a false statement in the application to their lender is a crime,” said Matt Coleman, a Regional Communications Director for the SBA.
If convicted, Peralta faces up to 20 years’ imprisonment.