Social media influencer pleads guilty to $1m US pandemic loan fraud
A social media influencer has pleaded guilty to fraudulently obtaining more than $1m in COVID-19 pandemic-related loans from the US government used to fund a lavish lifestyle which she flaunted on Instagram.
Danielle Miller, a self-proclaimed con artist whose scams have been chronicled in a New York Magazine profile last year, appeared before a general judge in Boston by video from a prison cell to plead guilty to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft charges.
The 33-year-old also agreed to forfeit $1.3m (£1m) as part of a plea deal with prosecutors and serve six years in prison, 16 months of which could overlap with a five-year sentence she was handed in October in a separate Florida bank fraud case.
Miller has been accused by prosecutors of using the identities of more than 10 people to fraudulently set up bank accounts and obtain more than $1m (£831,450) in pandemic-related loans intended for small businesses.
She is said to have spent the money on travel and luxury items including a Rolex, a Louis Vuitton bag and Dior shoes, as well as posting photos on Instagram of herself at opulent hotels in California where she used a bank account in the name of one of her victims.
Miller, originally from New York, is the daughter of a former New York State Bar Association president and was also a student at the prestigious Horace Mann School.
She was already facing charges in a separate Florida state court fraud case when she was arrested in May 2021 at a luxury apartment in Miami, which she had moved into during the pandemic.
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“Honestly, I more so consider myself a con artist than anything,” Miller was quoted as saying in the New York Magazine article.
“You know how they have that saying that you can sell ice to an Eskimo? If there’s something that I want, I’m getting it.”
More than 1,000 people have been convicted of defrauding COVID relief programmes, according to the US Government Accountability Office.
Miller’s case is an example of fraud that became rampant as the federal government rushed to distribute more than $5trn (£4.1trn) in relief funds to help people, businesses and local governments affected by the pandemic due to lockdowns and closures.
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Last week, the White House said President Joe Biden was planning to ask Congress to provide $1.6bn (£1.3bn) in new funding to crack down on fraud tied to programmes.
Miller is due to be sentenced on 27 June.