Nineteen people, including the actor who played the Red Power Ranger on television, are facing federal charges after being accused of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, the Department of Justice says.
Austin St. John, whose real name is Jason Lawrence Geiger, was named in an indictment returned by a federal grand jury on May 12 and charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
According to the indictment by the U.S. Attorney’s Office Eastern District of Texas, 19 people, including St. John, were alleged to have executed a scheme to defraud lenders and the Small Business Administration’s (SBA's) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) of at least $3.5 million through 16 fraudulent loans.
According to the DOJ, the following 18 defendants have either been arrested or summoned for an appearance before a federal magistrate judge. It's not clear if they've obtained attorneys to speak on their behalf.
- Michael Lewayne Hill, a/k/a Tank, 47, of Mineral Wells;
- Andrew Charles Moran, 43, of Lewisville;
- Peter Keovongphet, a/k/a Lil’ Pete, 34, of Ft. Lauderdale, FL;
- Ty Alan Burkhart, 34, of Frisco;
- Jason Lawrence Geiger, a/k/a Austin St. John a/k/a the Red Power Ranger, 47, of McKinney;
- Eric Reed Marascio, a/k/a Phoenix Marcon, 50, of Allen;
- Christopher Lee McElfresh, 43, of Frisco;
- Cord Dean Newman, 44, of Homosassa, FL;
- Elmer Omar Ayala, 45, of Midlothian;
- Gregory Fitzgerald Hatley, Jr., 38, of Allen;
- Alexander Eric Cortesano, 52, of Dallas;
- Arthur Atik Pongtaratik, 33, of Carrollton;
- Miles Justin Urias, 34, of Richardson;
- Fabian C. Hernandez, 44, of Lake Alfred, FL;
- Daniel Lee Warren, 33, address unknown;
- Rajaa Bensellam, 49, of Allen;
- Hadi Mohammed Taffal, 50, of Allen; and
- Jonathon James Spencer, a/k/a Spence, 33, of Rowlett.
According to the indictment, the defendants, led by Michael Hill and Andrew Moran, either used existing businesses or created a business to submit applications for PPP funding. Once that was done, Moran is alleged to have fabricated supporting documentation for the loans.
"On the applications, the defendants are alleged to have misrepresented material information such as the true nature of their business, the number of employees, and the amount of payroll. Based on these material misrepresentations, the SBA and other financial institutions approved and issued loans to the defendants," the DOJ said.
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Investigator said the defendants didn't use the money for which it was intended, instead, they typically paid Hill and Moran, transferred money to their personal accounts, and spent the funds on various personal purchases. In other instances, investigators said the defendants sent the fraudulently obtained funds to Jonathon Spencer for purported investment in foreign exchange markets.
Federal investigators did not say how much money in loans each defendant is alleged to have obtained. If convicted, the defendants each face up to 20 years in federal prison.
The CARES Act is a federal law enacted on March 29, 2020, designed to provide emergency financial assistance to the millions of Americans who were suffering the economic effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. One source of relief provided by the CARES Act was the authorization of up to $349 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses for job retention and certain other expenses, through the PPP. In April 2020, Congress authorized over $300 billion in additional PPP funding.
Actor Named in Federal Indictment
Austin St. John was best known for his role in the 1990s children's superhero show “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” where he played the Red Power Ranger. According to IMDB, St. John played the Gold Ranger in 1996 in the “Power Rangers Zeo” TV show and more recently, in 2020, again wore the red ranger's suit in “Power Rangers Beast Morphers.”
NBC News reported St. John was scheduled to appear this weekend at Des Moines Con, a comic book and pop culture event in Iowa, but the convention announced Thursday he would no longer attend due to “unforeseen personal obligations.”
“He sends his apologies and love to all those that were looking forward to meeting him. Austin plans to be here to meet all of his fans in 2023.,” the event's statement said.