Albany woman admits $1.6M COVID-relief fraud

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ALBANY — An Albany woman faces up to 20 years in prison for fraudulently obtaining nearly three dozen COVID-relief loans for businesses worth a combined $1.6 million.

Debra Hackstadt, 67, pleaded guilty Thursday to two counts of wire fraud in U.S. District Court.

She admitted receiving $1,615,546 through the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loans program — two pandemic-relief measures designed to assist businesses struggling financially amid the shutdowns and economic changes resulting from COVID-19.

United States Attorney Carla B. Freedman and Janeen DiGuiseppi, special agent in charge of the Albany Field Office of the FBI, said in a news release that the 32 loans were issued between April 30, 2020, and June 11, 2021, to Hackstadt herself, relatives, acquaintances and several companies she or family members controlled.

They said Hackstadt’s loan applications contained fictitious employees, grossly overstated employee counts and payroll totals, and false tax documents. She also admitted she obtained two other business loans from private lenders with a combined value of $90,790 and promptly defaulted on both.

Paycheck Protection Program loans were issued by private financial institutions and backed by the federal government while Economic Injury Disaster Loans are issued directly by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

In all, Hackstadt obtained 27 PPP loans and five EIDLs ranging from $4,610 to $137,500.

The U.S. attorney general on May 17, 2021, established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force to combat and prevent misuse of pandemic relief assistance. It combines the resources of numerous federal agencies to detect, investigate and prosecute fraud.

Information about attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can be reported to the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud at 866-720-5721 or https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.

Hackstadt will be sentenced Oct. 6 by Chief United States District Judge Glenn T. Suddaby. She faces up to 20 years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines. 

She has agreed to pay restitution and to forfeit $254,812, the amount she personally obtained through the scheme.

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