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7 charged with laundering $2.1M, including coronavirus relief funds

Stephanie Pagones

Seven people were charged with laundering $2.1 million – including more than $300,000 in illegally obtained coronavirus relief money - through a North Carolina casino, officials announced.

Four Georgia residents and three South Carolinians were found with more than $2.1 million in illegal cash. They are accused of laundering at least $750,000, including over $350,000 through Harrah's Cherokee Hotel and Casino, the Department of Justice announced in an indictment unsealed in South Carolina on Thursday.

Investigators found the money included the proceeds from a Paycheck Protection Program loan of more than $359,000, the indictment states.

WHAT IS MONEY LAUNDERING?

The case started as a drug trafficking investigation, but federal agents began digging further.

Christopher J. Agard, one of the seven, used his business, Wild Stylz Entertainment LLC, to launder money from previous criminal activity unrelated to the PPP loans, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of South Carolina.

In October 2019, he and the six others are accused of depositing and then withdrawing illegally obtained money. Three of the suspects then converted $200,000 out of $378,000 in illegal cash to casino chips at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Resort, the indictment states.

“After gambling for less than two hours, [they] cashed out from the casino and left with approximately $198,750 in cash,” court papers state.

NEW YORK CEOS CALL ON DE BLASIO FOR CRACKDOWN ON CRIME, QUALITY OF LIFE ISSUES

When the two suspects returned to Harrah’s three days later and each tried to cash $50,000 checks, casino officials grew suspicious, according to the indictment.

A Harrah’s spokesperson told Fox News the casino operates under “a comprehensive risk-based Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) and Anti-Money Laundering (AML) program.”

The program takes "measures to prevent its casinos from being used for money laundering or other criminal activity,” spokesperson Brian Saunooke said in an email.

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Months later, in May 2020, Agard applied for and received a PPP loan using bogus supporting documents connected to Wild Stylz, authorities said. He was awarded more than $395,000, but then “disseminated the fraudulently obtained funds to other members of the conspiracy through various means.”

Federal agents have seized more than $2.1 million in illegally-obtained funds from 12 different banks, the DOJ said.  Each of the seven people was charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

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