Real Estate

Developer Eric Sheppard Gets 1.5-Year Sentence for $900K Covid-19 Relief Fraud

Developer Eric Sheppard sentenced to 1.5 years for $900,000 Covid-19 relief fraud.

By Tal Alexander

6/10, 15:34 EDT
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Key Takeaway

  • Developer Eric Sheppard sentenced to 1.5 years in prison for defrauding Covid-19 relief programs, involving $900,000 in fraudulent loans.
  • Sheppard's WSG Development misrepresented employee numbers and financials to obtain Paycheck Protection Program funds.
  • Forfeiture hearing set for Aug. 23 to determine if Sheppard must surrender personal property to cover restitution.

Developer Sentenced for Covid-19 Relief Fraud

Bal Harbour-based developer Eric Sheppard has been sentenced to one and a half years in federal prison for defrauding Covid-19 business relief programs. U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom handed down the sentence, which is about a year less than what prosecutors had requested. Sheppard, known for redeveloping the historic Carillon Hotel in Miami Beach, was convicted on four counts of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. His company, WSG Development, allegedly looted $900,000 in financial assistance loans during the pandemic by submitting fraudulent documents, including fabricated tax returns.

The Fraudulent Scheme

Sheppard's fraudulent activities involved the Paycheck Protection Program and another Small Business Administration loan designed to help companies during the Covid-19 shutdowns. Between 2020 and 2021, Sheppard submitted false documents through four WSG affiliates, three of which were based in Bal Harbour. Prosecutors presented evidence that Sheppard misrepresented the number of employees, revenue, and monthly payroll expenses for each affiliate. The court has yet to decide whether Sheppard will have to forfeit personal property to cover the $900,000 in restitution he owes the federal government, with a forfeiture hearing set for August 23.

A History of Financial Troubles

Sheppard's development career has been marred by financial difficulties, particularly following the 2008 financial crash. He lost a majority of the units at his Canyon Ranch project to Lehman Bros. Holdings through a $301.2 million deed in lieu of foreclosure. Lehman also foreclosed on a West Palm Beach hotel property owned by WSG after the developer defaulted on over $200 million in loans. In 2012, Sheppard settled a federal lawsuit alleging that WSG diverted nearly $40 million to a company managed by Nevin Shapiro, a convicted Ponzi schemer. Sheppard agreed to pay back $700,000 as part of the settlement.

Broader Implications for Financial Integrity

Sheppard's case is a stark reminder of the vulnerabilities in financial relief programs and the importance of stringent oversight. The fraudulent activities not only deprived legitimate businesses of much-needed aid but also highlighted the ease with which such programs can be exploited. This case underscores the need for more robust verification processes and stricter penalties to deter potential fraudsters. The broader financial community must take heed of these lessons to safeguard the integrity of future relief efforts.