Monk, attorney charged with $3.5M pandemic relief fraud

BOSTON (AP) — A man who presents himself as a Orthodox Christian monk and an attorney he lived with fraudulently obtained $3.5 million in federal pandemic relief funds for nonprofit religious organizations and related businesses they controlled, and spent some of it to fund a “lavish lifestyle,” federal prosecutors said Thursday.

Brian Andrew Bushell, 47, and Tracey M.A. Stockton, 64, are charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and unlawful monetary transactions, the U.S. attorney’s office in Boston said in a statement.

Both were released with conditions after an initial court appearance.

The defendants’ attorneys didn’t immediately reply to emails seeking comment.

Bushell, who referred to himself as “father” or “reverend father,” controlled several organizations based in the coastal town of Marblehead, including an Orthodox Christian charitable foundation, a monastic house, a brewery and a salt maker, prosecutors said.

Investigators have not been able to confirm whether Bushell is an Orthodox monk who trained in Greece, as he says, according to an FBI affidavit in the case.

The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America said Bushell is not a priest or monk in the church. Bushell is not affiliated with the Orthodox Church in America, said the V. Rev. John Kreta of the New England Diocese.

Stockton served as the general counsel and authorized representative of those organizations, and the two lived in the same Marblehead residence, authorities said.

Shortly after the federal government made coronavirus pandemic relief funds available in April 2020, Bushell, with Stockton’s assistance, submitted numerous applications to receive Economic Injury Disaster Loans.

They overstated the organizations’ operational expenses and revenues backed up by false documents to obtain $3.5 million in funds, prosecutors allege.

They also submitted numerous applications for Paycheck Protection Program funds, allegedly inflating the number of employees they had and their payroll expenses to obtain nearly $150,000 in additional funds, prosecutors said.

They spent more than $1 million of the money on extensive renovations to two Marblehead properties, $42,000 for membership to a New York social club, $40,000 for a Swiss watch, nearly $7,000 for a designer handbag, and other goods, prosecutors said.

“Pandemic relief funds are not ‘free money’ — they are a lifeline designed to help business owners and nonprofit leaders experiencing real economic hardship,” U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins said. “Our government should not and will not foot the bill for fancy designer handbags and lavish lifestyles.”

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