Durham man sentenced for fraudulently obtaining $2.9M in mortgages, COVID relief money

A Durham man has been sentenced to seven years in prison for fraudulently gaining over $2.9 million in mortgages and COVID-19 relief money, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Tuesday..

Reynold Eugene Mullen, 48, of Durham and his girlfriend, Tiffany Dawn Russell, fabricated bank statements and “washed” credit reports to get four mortgages totaling over $1.3 million to buy properties in Rocky Mount, Nags Head and Miami between 2019 and 2021, according to a news release. Credit washing usually involves falsely claiming identity theft to improve one’s credit rating.

From March 2020 to July 2021, they also submitted fraudulent economic injury disaster loan and payment protection program applications to obtain over $1.6 million in small business pandemic relief money. The couple provided false monthly payrolls, fraudulent tax returns and wrong employee numbers to gain the money, according to the Eastern District of North Carolina U.S. Attorney’s Office.

With the $1.6 million, they bought six properties and paid for Mullen’s plastic surgery.

Russell, a former attorney, was sentenced to five years and three months in prison and five years of supervised release in May 2022. She started defrauding banks in 2016, using the money she made with two other defendants to pay for plastic surgery and a luxury car.

As of March, the Internal Revenue Service had investigated over 1,600 pandemic tax and money laundering cases related to COVID fraud potentially totaling $8.9 billion nationwide, according to an IRS news release. As of Feb. 29, 795 people had been indicted for alleged COVID-related crimes and 373 people had been sentenced to an average of nearly three years in federal prison, the agency reported.

“We live in a generous nation that lends a hand to those in need,” U.S. Attorney Michael Easley said in the Department of Justice news release. “When defendants like Mullen take advantage of that generosity — to buy beach houses and plastic surgery — we will fight for every penny to be returned to the public purse.”

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