NFL player accused of bilking $1.2 million from federal COVID-19 loan program

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A veteran NFL player was arrested Thursday on charges of bilking more than $1 million from a loan program meant to help small businesses struggling during the coronavirus pandemic, authorities said.

Joshua J. Bellamy, 31, of St. Petersburg, who was released this week as a wide receiver with the New York Jets, has been charged in Miami federal court with bank and wire fraud in a conspiracy case extending from South Florida to Ohio.

The case involves 10 other people, mostly from South Florida, who have already been charged with seeking more than $24 million in loans from the Small Business Administration Paycheck Protection Program. Major banks approved most of the alleged ring’s 90 loan applications, resulting in payouts totaling about $17.5 million, authorities said.

The loans are guaranteed by the SBA under a $650 billion program approved by Congress after the COVID-19 pandemic struck the nation in March. The loans are forgiven by the government as long as the proceeds are used for employee payroll and other legitimate expenses.

More than a half-dozen similar SBA fraud cases have been filed in South Florida, including a man who bought a $318,000 Lamborghini sports car with $4 million in SBA loans for his moving company.

Bellamy, formerly with the Chicago Bears, made his first federal court appearance Thursday in Fort Lauderdale. His defense attorneys, Jeff Weiner and Diego Weiner, urged the public to keep an open mind about their client.

“Josh Bellamy is a good and decent man, who is presumed innocent by our laws,” they said in a statement. “We hope that the public will give him the benefit of the doubt at this time. All too often, professional athletes are taken advantage of by people who are purportedly acting on their behalf as agents or advisors. We will all know more as the case progresses.“

Prosecutors said Bellamy is charged in a criminal complaint with conspiring with Phillip J. Augustin, who operates a talent management company. After submitting his initial application, Augustin worked with Bellamy and others in a scheme to submit numerous loan applications, prosecutors said. Augustin also received kickbacks from Bellamy and the others, they said.

Bellamy is accused of obtaining a $1.25 million loan for his own company, Drip Entertainment LLC, prosecutors said. But rather than spend the money on employee salaries, as required under the emergency loan program, he allegedly bought more than $104,000 in luxury goods, including purchases at Dior, Gucci and jewelers.

He also allegedly spent about $63,000 at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino and withdrew $302,000, prosecutors said. Bellamy is also accused of assisting family members and close associates.

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