Federal authorities say a man from Camden County has admitted to conspiring to fraudulently obtain COVID-19 relief funds, fraudulently obtaining unemployment benefits, and illegally possessing a "ghost gun."

U.S. Attorney Philip Sellinger says on Tuesday, 46-year-old Stephen Bennett of Berlin pleaded guilty in Camden federal court to one count of bank fraud conspiracy, one count of wire fraud, and one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

According to court documents,

In 2020, Bennett conspired with Rhonda Thomas to submit one PPP [Paycheck Protection Program] application and one EIDL [Economic Injury Disaster Loan] application for a company controlled by Bennett. The applications stated that the company had 16 employees, gross revenues of $1.73 million, and an average monthly payroll of $144,000, when in fact the company had no employees, revenue, or payroll.

Sellinger's office says Bennett and Thomas also submitted forged tax forms and altered bank statements as part of their PPP loan application.

SoJO 104.9 FM logo
Get our free mobile app

Based on those falsehoods, $510,000 in loans were approved. With that money, Bennett paid kickbacks of over $150,000 to Thomas and then used the rest to pay for personal expenses.

More fraud

Also in 2020, Bennett defrauded the Pennsylvania Department of Labor by submitting 74 unemployment insurance claims in the names of other individuals. In that scheme, he received over $425,000.

Ghost gun

In May 2021, law enforcement officials executed a search warrant at Bennett’s home and they found a .9mm semiautomatic "ghost gun" (a gun with no serial number) and a magazine loaded with 16 rounds of ammunition.

Big time, big fines

The charge of bank fraud conspiracy carries up to 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine. The count of wire fraud is punishable by up to 20 years behind bars and a $250,000 fine. The count of being a felon in possession of a firearm carries a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

What's next

Sentencing is scheduled for November 21st.

Thomas previously pleaded guilty to bank fraud conspiracy and money laundering and is awaiting sentencing.

21 Best Dive Bars in South Jersey

We recently took to Facebook to assemble a list of the best dive bars in South Jersey. Out of the dozens of very passionate replies that we received, we narrowed them down to the 21 best local watering holes. Pull up a seat at the bar and check out our list!

Locals Pick the 14 Best Restaurants for Fried Shrimp at the Jersey Shore

More From SoJO 104.9 FM