JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Jacksonville man has pleaded guilty to charges related to misusing nearly $1 million in Paycheck Protection Program loan money, funds that investigators say he spent on himself.
Kenneth Steven Landers is facing up to 30 years behind bars. He was the subject of a previous investigation by the News4JAX I-TEAM into hundreds of old tires being dumped on a vacant property.
Landers pleaded guilty Tuesday to COVID relief fraud and money laundering. Federal authorities say he was defrauding taxpayers out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, using it to buy a gold Rolex and an $87,000 vintage Jaguar XKE roadster.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Landers submitted false information and documents in 2020 and 2021 to receive seven PPP loans totaling $910,000.
IRS Assistant Special Agent in Charge Tara Reed says she can’t reveal how investigators learned about Landers, but notes that it’s not uncommon for members of the public to tip them off.
“Every single person who chooses to break the law and defraud the government, we will find and we will prosecute to the fullest extent,” Reed said.
Prosecutors say Landers used the money meant to keep businesses afloat and people employed as a personal piggy bank, withdrawing more than $100,000 cash, writing checks to himself and padding his personal account.
Prosecutors also say he used the cash infusion to pay down his debt, including paying off the mortgages on his waterfront home and Northside tire business.
Reed says Landers forged tax documents when he applied for loans on behalf of four corporate entities he controlled, including the nonprofit American Fallen Veterans Service Project Inc. Its website asks visitors to “Help support the families of our fallen veterans with your generous car donation.”
Federal prosecutors say the organization’s bank account went from zero to $200,000 when it got approved for a COVID relief loan.
“As a veteran myself, it really is offensive because we have a lot of veterans out there who, you know, gave their service to this great country. And yes, Mr. Landers is using what’s supposed to be a nonprofit charity veterans organization to steal money from the government,” Reed said.
Steve’s Tire Empire is now crumbling after Landers pleaded guilty to fraud. Court records show he’s agreed to sell his home and his business to repay the government, in addition to returning at least $910,000 to taxpayers.
A sentencing date for Landers had not yet been set.