Sarasota County Sheriff Kurt A. Hoffman announced Monday the results of an investigation that halted the fraudulent release of more than $4 million in CARES Act funds.
Detectives launched their investigation in November 2020 after being contacted by Sarasota County Government employees about suspected fraud. Through a partnership between the county’s Office of Financial Management and the Clerk of the Circuit Court and County Comptroller, employees flagged several CARES Act applications that seemed suspicious. As detectives began looking at individual applications, they identified 200 fraudulent applications, 114 of which were submitted by SRQ Financial Solutions LLC, a business located at 4034 N. Washington Blvd., in Sarasota.
SRQ Financial Solutions, LLC is marketed as a tax preparation business with several employees who identify themselves as certified tax professionals. Based on detectives’ review of the 114 applications submitted, they identified several suspicious profit and loss statements and fictitious bank statements. On February 24, detectives executed a search warrant at the business where they seized more than 1,500 files including small business loan applications, fictitious tax documents, and more. Through interviews with more than two dozen clients who sought services through SRQ Financial Solutions, LLC, detectives learned the business collected a $150 application fee to submit a CARES Act application on behalf of the client and would then take 20% of the funds upon release from the county. Several clients told detectives they were never asked for financial information about their business until after the application was submitted. When presented copies of 2019 profit and loss statements that SRQ Financial Solutions, LLC submitted on their behalf, several clients admitted the numbers were inaccurate and others admitted their businesses were not even operational in 2019. The fabrication of the financial statements was done entirely by SRQ Financial Solutions employees.
Through their continued investigation, detectives identified more than $319,000 that had been released as the result of applications submitted by the business; some of the applications were legitimate while the majority were fraudulent. Based on the applications still pending approval by the county, detectives estimate the investigation stopped an additional $4.15 million from being released.
On Thursday, warrants were issued for eight people involved in the SRQ Financial Solutions, LLC scheme. Peria Rhodes of Sarasota is considered the ringleader of the operation. She was supported by Raelyn Tillman of Port Charlotte, who is a notary and helped manipulate financial statements. Maria Bradley and Demetrius “Nikki” Sheppard are also employed by the business and helped submit the fraudulent applications. Shaquaya Cooper, Shaneice Rhodes, William Rhodes, and Eddie Yarn are all identified as accomplices who helped the operation. Their charges are as follows:
- Peria Rhodes, DOB 09/03/87, of 1090 Cocoanut Ave. #5, Sarasota, is charged with a single count of Scheme to Defraud More than $50,000. She has prior arrests for Fraud, Sale of Cocaine, and Possession of a Controlled Substance.
- Raelyn Tillman, DOB 07/23/90, of 13498 Mary Jo Ave., Port Charlotte, is charged with a single count of Scheme to Defraud More than $50,000. She has no prior local arrests.
- Maria Bradley, DOB 11/25/80, of 2746 Church Ave., Sarasota, is charged with a single count of Scheme to Defraud More than $50,000. She has prior arrests for Fraud, Theft, and Violation of Probation.
- Demetris “Nikki” Sheppard, DOB 06/26/82, of 2120 Ernie Shank Court, Sarasota, is charged with a single count of Scheme to Defraud More than $50,000. She has no prior local arrests.
- William Rhodes, DOB 12/20/63, of 2760 21st St, Sarasota, is charged with Theft and Perjury. He has several prior arrests on charges including Burglary with Battery, Possession of Cocaine, Resisting with Violence, Fleeing to Elude, Aggravated Stalking, and more.
- Shaneice Rhodes, DOB 12/21/88, of 1090 Cocoanut Ave, Sarasota, is charged with Theft and Perjury. She has one local prior arrest for Fraud.
- Shaquaya Cooper, DOB 02/13/96, of 3402 20th W., Bradenton, is charged with Theft and Perjury. She has no prior local arrests.
- Eddie Yarn, DOB 04/10/83, of 1009 20th St E, Bradenton, is charged with Theft and Perjury. He has several prior arrests on charges including Trafficking in Stolen Property, Burglary, Resisting with Violence, Indecent Exposure, Battery on a Law Enforcement Officer, Fleeing to Elude, Fraud, and more.
“This was a complex and lengthy investigation that our detectives handled professionally and thoroughly,” commented Sheriff Kurt A. Hoffman. “In cases that involve white-collar crime and fraud, there are a lot of moving parts, financial statements to review, and fact-checking. I applaud our Criminal Investigations Section for making this case a priority to prevent the fraudulent release of more funds to these criminals. It is through partnerships with local government and other agencies that the sheriff’s office can successfully work these cases and put people who are taking advantage of our citizens and small businesses behind bars.”
“The dedication and diligence of the county team that managed the federally funded CARES program, is a testament of our commitment to the community,” commented County Administrator Jonathan R. Lewis. “The entire process was very successful providing members of our community the funding assistance needed during the pandemic. Additionally, their diligence reviewing each and every application successfully identified questionable applications that led to action by the sheriff’s office. The collaboration of our community and county partners has demonstrated that even during a pandemic, we all came together to the benefit of our residents.”
“While focused on providing the financial resources quickly to those in need, our primary role is to ensure payments were made to only eligible people,” commented Clerk of the Circuit Court and County Comptroller Karen Rushing. “I appreciate the Sheriff and his team as we work together to serve the community.”
“The Secret Service is proud to partner with the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office,” said Rick Dean, Assistant to The Special Agent in Charge for the Tampa Field Office of the United States Secret Service. “The hard work and determination of the investigators, in this case, is the reason we stand here today. The results of this investigation are a testament to our belief that building strong, trusted partnerships across the law enforcement community is a proven model for success. The Secret Service, along with partners like the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, remains committed to aggressively protecting the nation’s financial infrastructure from criminal opportunists who choose to exploit government programs designed to provide relief to the American public.”
If you or your business has had any dealings with SRQ Financial Solutions, LLC, you are strongly encouraged to contact the Criminal Investigations Section at 941.861.4900.
To learn more about the Sarasota County CARES Act process, visit www.scgov.net/government/health-and-human-services/covid-19-coronavirus/sarasota-county-cares-5898. At this time, Sarasota County has allocated all of its $75 million reimbursement and as such, is no longer taking applications.