Former Philly prison guard accused of smuggling phones and drugs to inmates now faces pandemic relief fund fraud charges

A former Philadelphia prison officer accused earlier this year of smuggling inmates amid the city’s coronavirus lockdown faces new charges alleging he defrauded a pandemic relief program designed to help people small businesses in difficulty.

Federal prosecutors said Haneef Lawton, 33, told the US Small Business Administration that he ran a farming business from his East Mount Airy home that employed more than 50 people and had an annual turnover of ‘approximately $ 145,000. His grant application under the SBA’s Economic Disaster Loan program earned him $ 10,000 in federal aid in June 2020.

Lawton allegedly submitted the grant with the help of another person, whom prosecutors have not publicly identified, months before his alleged involvement in the jail smuggling program, court records in both cases show.

In this case, Lawton – a 13-year veteran of the Department of Corrections who had been assigned to the Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Center on State Road – was charged with helping bring in nearly $ 70,000 in cell phones and narcotics. in the establishment between September 2020 and April of this year.

Investigators accused Lawton of accepting a total of $ 11,500 in bribes from an inmate who organized the contraband pipeline and his girlfriend who delivered the illicit cell phones and doses of Suboxone – a drug used to treat withdrawal from heroin which can also be used as an opioid itself. .

When the Corrections Department confronted him with the charges in May, Lawton opted to resign his post and forfeit his annual salary of $ 51,000, a city department spokesperson said. He was charged a few days later.

Lawton’s two co-defendants in that case pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit bribery and drug offenses, among other charges. Lawton is also expected to plead guilty in the case next week, according to Federal Court records.

The pandemic fraud charges against him were filed Monday through a criminal brief instead of an indictment – usually a sign that a defendant has already agreed to plead guilty. He could face up to an additional 10 years in prison if he did so.

Since the onset of the coronavirus, the federal government has approved $ 2.2 trillion in economic stimulus payments to individuals and business owners negatively affected by the pandemic.

But lawmakers have repeatedly raised concerns about fraud in these programs, especially those run by the SBA. Last month, the agency’s inspector general concluded in a report that it had distributed more than $ 3.1 billion in loans and $ 550 million in grants to potentially ineligible recipients between March and November of last year.

The study largely blamed a lack of scrutiny in examining candidates for help.

Court documents filed in the Lawton case highlight several red flags that may have raised concerns.

For example, in addition to claiming that he ran a farming business from his home in northwest Philadelphia, prosecutors said Lawton put his personal social security number on a section of his application that asked for a number. federal tax identification and requested that the grant money be deposited into a personal bank account.

He received the $ 10,000 he requested a day after submitting the request, according to the documents.

Lawton’s attorney, Andrew Montroy, did not immediately respond to calls for comment on Tuesday.

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