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TULSA, Okla. -- A Centerton man pleaded guilty in federal court in Oklahoma on Thursday to bank fraud and making false statements to fraudulently get loans meant for covid relief for businesses.

Benjamin Hayford, 32, was a senior manager, global technology operations and portfolio at Walmart.

He pleaded guilty to one count of bank fraud and four counts of false statements to a financial institution before U.S. District Judge Claire V. Eagan of the Northern District of Oklahoma. Sentencing has been scheduled for Nov. 4.

Hayford is accused of filing fraudulent bank loan applications seeking more than $8 million in forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loans guaranteed by the U.S. Small Business Administration under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

Hayford admitted he sought millions of dollars in forgivable loans from multiple banks by claiming fictitious payroll expenses. To support his applications, Hayford provided lenders with fraudulent payroll documentation purporting to establish payroll expenses that were, in fact, nonexistent.

He also admitted to making false representations to a financial institution concerning the date a limited liability partnership -- for which he applied for relief -- was established.

The coronavirus aid act is a federal law, enacted March 29, designed 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 was the authorization of up to $349 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses for job retention and certain other expenses. Congress authorized more than $300 billion in additional funding in April.

The program allowed qualifying small businesses and other organizations to receive loans with a maturity of two years and an interest rate of 1%. The loan proceeds had to be used by businesses on payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent and utilities. The program allows the interest and principal to be forgiven if businesses spend the proceeds on the allowed expenses within a set period and use a certain percentage of the loan toward payroll expenses.

To obtain such a loan, a small business had to submit an application signed by an authorized representative of the business acknowledge program rules and to make certain certifications, such as the amount of its monthly payroll expenses and its number of employees. The business also provided documentation of payroll expenses.

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