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Former Southerns owner charged with defrauding $123,500 from PPP funds

Keith Anton Johnson
Posted at 10:54 AM, Mar 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-19 17:15:52-04

COLLEGE STATION, TX — On March 19, Acting U.S. Attorney Lowery charged a 44-year-old Bryan man on one count of wire fraud. According to the indictment, Keith Anton Johnson allegedly received $123,500 in Payroll Protection Program (PPP) funds from the Small Business Administration, as part of the CARES act.

According to the charges, Johnson co-operated and owned KJR Entertainment Holdings LLC from January to July of 2020, overseeing the operation of a bar and live music venue in Bryan known as Southerns.

Johnson allegedly submitted required payroll information pretending to be that of current employees, in order to qualify for said PPP loan. In fact, it's alleged that he managed to provide documentation of an employee's current status, when in fact, this one-time employee had actually quit from the bar back in Jan of 2020.

PPP application forms require applicants to acknowledge all program rules, and to certify, and attest, to various qualifiers.

According to the indictment, when asked about having any criminal charges, Johnson answered no, despite the fact he was aware he was actually still facing charges over in Harris County.

The CARES Act is a federal law enacted March 27, 2020, to provide emergency financial assistance to the millions of Americans who are suffering the economic effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. One source of relief the CARES Act provides is the authorization of up to $349 billion in United States Small Business Administration (SBA)-guaranteed and forgivable loans to small businesses through the PPP.

Businesses must use PPP loan proceeds for certain permissible expenses, such as payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent, and utilities. Interest and principal on PPP loans can be entirely forgiven if the business spent the loan proceeds on these expense items within a designated period of time.

If convicted, Johnson faces up to 20 years in prison and a possible $250,000 maximum fine.

The FBI and Harris County Precinct One Constables Office conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Carter is prosecuting the case.

An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence. A defendant is presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.

Prior to this, Johnson was reportedly arrested back in July of 2019 after being charged with aggregated theft.

Investigators believe Johnson ran a scheme from May of 2016 through April of 2018 where he reportedly stole nearly $350,000 from unsuspecting victims; these people contracted Johnson for general construction work at homes located in Bellaire and the surrounding areas.

“He took advantage of trusting clients and stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from them, victimizing again many of the victims who had just endured so much in Hurricane Harvey,” said Constable Alan Rosen in a news release. “I want to ensure Johnson never is able to take another cent from another victim.”

Of Johnson's six reported victims, two were noted to be suffering from the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey. According to the Harris County Constable's Office, Johnson preyed on these victims after the hurricane made the availability of general contractors scarce.

A first-degree felony, Johnson faced 5 to 99 years, or life, in prison, and a potential $10,000 fine.