Federal jury finds man guilty of procuring U.S. citizenship illegally during execution of multimillion dollar COVID-19 fraud scheme


Date: February 8, 2023

Contact: newsroom@ci.irs.gov

MIAMI — Following a trial in Fort Lauderdale federal court, a jury has found Joff Stenn Wroy Philossaint, guilty of illegally obtaining his U.S. citizenship by lying about fraud that he committed while his citizenship application was pending.

According to evidence presented at trial, prior to April 2020, Philossaint – a Haitian national – had applied to become a U.S. citizen. While his U.S. citizenship application was pending, Philossaint engaged in a sophisticated COVID-19 fraud scheme. Specifically, from April 2020 through May 2021, Philossaint submitted fraudulent applications on behalf of 11 businesses seeking a total of about $3 million from COVID-19 relief programs. On December 15, 2020, while Philossaint's wire fraud scheme was ongoing, a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officer interviewed Philossaint in connection with his citizenship application. During the sworn interview, Philossaint falsely stated that he had never committed a crime for which he had not been arrested and that he had never made misrepresentations to receive a public benefit in the United States. Philossaint was naturalized as a U.S. citizen based on these false representations.

An indictment charged Philossaint with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to launder money in connection with the COVID-19 relief application and with procuring naturalization contrary to law. Philossaint pled guilty to the wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy charges and proceeded to trial on the immigration charge. The jury found him guilty on the immigration charge.

Philossaint is scheduled to be sentenced on March 29 at 9 a.m. in Ft. Lauderdale before U.S. District Judge Rodney Smith. In addition to any prison sentence that the judge imposes, Philossaint is subject to mandatory denaturalization after sentencing.

U.S. Attorney Markenzy Lapointe for the Southern District of Florida, Special Agent in Charge Matthew D. Line of the IRS-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI), Miami Field Office, Special Agent in Charge Amaleka McCall-Brathwaite of the U.S. Small Business Administration, Office of the Inspector General (SBA-OIG), Investigations Division, Eastern Regional Office, Special Agent in Charge Rafael Barros of the U.S. Secret Service (USSS), Miami Field Office, acting Special Agent in Charge Maged Behnam of the FBI Miami Field Office, and acting Special Agent in Charge Michael E. Buckley, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Miami, announced the conviction.

IRS-CI, SBA OIG, USSS, FBI, and HSI investigated this case. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Marc Osborne and Shannon O'Shea Darsch prosecuted it. Assistant U.S. Attorney Joshua Paster is handling asset forfeiture.

In March 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security ("CARES") Act was enacted. It was designed to provide emergency financial assistance to the millions of Americans suffering the economic effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Among other sources of relief, the CARES Act authorized and provided funding to the SBA to provide Economic Injury Disaster Loans ("EIDLs") to eligible small businesses, including sole proprietorships and independent contractors, experiencing substantial financial disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic to allow them to meet financial obligations and operating expenses that could otherwise have been met had the disaster not occurred. EIDL applications were submitted directly to the SBA via the SBA's on-line application website, and the applications were processed and the loans funded for qualifying applicants directly by the SBA.

On May 17, 2021, the Attorney General established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force to marshal the resources of the Department of Justice in partnership with agencies across government to enhance efforts to combat and prevent pandemic-related fraud. The Task Force bolsters efforts to investigate and prosecute the most culpable domestic and international criminal actors and assists agencies tasked with administering relief programs to prevent fraud by, among other methods, augmenting and incorporating existing coordination mechanisms, identifying resources and techniques to uncover fraudulent actors and their schemes, and sharing and harnessing information and insights gained from prior enforcement efforts.