Broward Commissioner Holness’s daughter faces fraud charges

Policy adviser Damara Holness, daughter of a Broward County commissioner who is now running for Congress, has been accused of siphoning $300,000 from a federal government program designed to help small businesses struggle during the COVID-19 pandemic .

Holness, the 28-year-old daughter of Broward Commissioner Dale Holness, who is searching the vacant seat of the late US Representative Alcee Hastings, was charged Tuesday on one count of conspiracy to wire fraud. She is accused of lying about her Plantation consulting firm’s financial needs in order to qualify for a Federal Paycheck Protection Program loan.

Damara Holness made her first appearance in federal court in Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday and received a $100,000 personal bond.

After that story went public, Holness’ defense attorney Sue-Ann Robinson issued a brief statement Thursday morning, saying her client was a single mother who “despite having a high-profile parent, had to determine her own path personally and professionally.” “.

“Ms. Holness, like everyone else, has a presumption of innocence,” Robinson said. “Despite a full investigation by the Feds confirming that her father or his campaign had no involvement, there was an inexplicable rush to complete and release this indictment. It is unfortunate that these allegations against my client appear to have been timed to feed into her father’s campaign for federal office.”

Her father, Dale Holness, who served as mayor of Broward last year and is running against 10 others for the Hastings seat in November’s special Democratic primary, said in a text message that he and his daughter “have been estranged for many years. ”

“She has made it clear to me on numerous occasions that she is an adult and as such is in charge of her own affairs,” Holness wrote in the text message to the Miami Herald. “I have no details on how she ran her business or what she did with her business.”

“If she did something wrong, I hope she learns from it and uses it as a lesson on how to behave better in life,” he wrote.

However, public records from Florida show that Damara Holness ran her political consulting business from the same office as her father’s real estate business, All Broward Realty, at 4325 West Sunrise Boulevard in Plantation. When asked about the same address for both companies, Dale Holness told the Herald, “She never conducted business in my office, nor did she have keys to my office.”

Damara Holness was among thousands of small business owners in Florida and across the country who have turned to the federal government for help during the coronavirus pandemic. However, authorities say she cheated the system by lying about her company’s financial profile and payroll.

The COVID-19 relief program, approved by Congress last year as the coronavirus pandemic swept the nation, was intended to help struggling businesses apply for loans guaranteed and ultimately made by the Small Business Administration. Since its inception under the CARES Act, the $650 billion program has been credited with helping small businesses pay employee wages and cover other overheads, but it has also been responsible for dozens of fraud cases in South Florida, one of the Hot spots of the country, triggered .

Last year, while Damara Holness was president of the Broward County Democratic Black Caucus, she requested a $300,000 loan for her firm, Holness Consulting Inc, according to a criminal complaint filed in Fort Lauderdale federal court.

To justify her company’s application, Holness claimed in the loan application that her company employed 18 people and spent an average of $120,000 a month on payroll, the information said. In fact, federal prosecutor Jeffrey Kaplan claims she had zero employees and no payslips. She is accused of using fraudulent payroll tax forms to support her loan application.

A Georgia bank, reviewing her company’s application, approved the loan and transferred the $300,000 to the political adviser’s account in South Florida.

After the money hit the bank account in July 2020, Holness spent the next few months creating a paper trail to make it appear that Holness Consulting had employees and was spending PPP funds on legitimate, approved expenses, Kaplan claims in the information.

Holness then wrote checks from her company’s bank account made out to other people who agreed to authenticate them and mail them back to the political adviser, the information said. She cashed the checks, paid each of the check-endorsers a few hundred dollars, and then kept the rest of the money for herself — about $1,000 per check, FBI agents revealed during their investigation.

This story was originally published Aug 18, 2021 1:21 p.m.

Jay Weaver writes about federal crime at the crossroads of South Florida and Latin America. Since joining the Miami Herald in 1999, he has reported non-stop in federal court, from Elian’s custody battle to A-Rod’s steroid abuse. He was part of the Herald team that won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news of Elian’s seizure by federal agents. He and three Herald colleagues were 2019 Pulitzer Prize finalists for explanatory reporting for a series on gold smuggling between South America and Miami.

Comments are closed.