September 25, 2023 - FRESNO, Calif. — Ruben Mireles, 48, of Clovis, pleaded guilty today to stealing $1.4 million in COVID-19 relief money, U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.
According to court documents, Mireles owned and operated a farm labor contracting business in Kings County. His business initially went by the name Vista Pacific Labor Solutions Inc. (VPLS) and then changed its name to Calzona Ag Management Inc., doing business as Vista Pacific Farm Management (CAM).
In January 2021, after VPLS changed its name to CAM, Mireles caused CAM to apply for and receive a COVID-19 Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan for $1.4 million from the Small Business Administration (SBA). Then, in April 2021, Mireles caused VPLS to apply for and receive another PPP loan for $1.4 million from the SBA based on false information.
In the second loan application, Mireles falsely represented to the SBA that VPLS was a separate company from CAM when, in fact, VPLS and CAM were the same company. Mireles also falsely represented that he had not received any other PPP loans when, in fact, he had previously received CAM’s loan. Finally, Mireles falsely represented that he was not subject to any pending criminal charges when, in fact, he was facing state fraud charges.
Based on Mireles’ representations, VPLS’s loan application was approved and the $1.4 million, to which he was not entitled, was deposited into his bank account.
This case is the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the SBA Office of Inspector General. Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Barton is prosecuting the case.
Mireles is scheduled to be sentenced by Jennifer L. Thurston on Feb. 20, 2024. Mireles faces a maximum statutory penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.
This effort is part of a California COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Strike Force operation, one of five interagency COVID-19 fraud strike force teams established by the U.S. Department of Justice. The California Strike Force combines law enforcement and prosecutorial resources in the Eastern and Central Districts of California and focuses on large-scale, multistate pandemic relief fraud perpetrated by criminal organizations and transnational actors. The strike forces use prosecutor-led and data analyst-driven teams to identify and bring to justice those who stole pandemic relief funds.
Source: DOJ Release