By Team

MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) – A Tampa-area man who collected over $800,000 in COVID-19 relief funds has been sentenced to three years and six months in prison for fraudulently collecting the funds.

Louis Thornton III, 63, of St. Petersburg, was sentenced Friday in Tampa federal court, according to court records. He pleaded guilty in September to wire fraud. He must also pay back the money he received.

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According to court documents, Thornton submitted fraudulent applications in 2020 for Economic Injury Disaster Loan and Paycheck Protection Program loans through the Small Business Administration on behalf of several defunct companies.

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The documents said Thornton’s applications fraudulently claimed the companies were operational and had suffered economic injury from the pandemic. Thornton obtained a total of $814,632.50 and used the money to invest in stocks, futures and commodities, the documents said.

The Paycheck Protection Program represents billions of dollars in forgivable small-business loans for Americans struggling because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s part of the coronavirus relief package that became federal law in 2020.

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(© Copyright 2022 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.) Team