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Florida man who bought mansion with $7.2M COVID-19 relief fund pleads guilty: DOJ

SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — A Florida man who bought a mansion with a $7.2 million COVID-19 relief fund has pleaded guilty, the Department of Justice announced Wednesday.

According to the plea agreement in May 2020, Don Cisternino, 46, fraudulently secured more than $7.2 million in emergency funds through a Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) loan.

Investigators said Cisternino’s PPP loan application falsely claimed that his business, MagnifiCo had 441 employees and monthly payroll expenses in 2019 of more than $2.8 million. Cisternino’s business actually had no employees other than himself.

The DOJ said that Cisternino also submitted fake W-2s for the company’s employees. Many of the listed names and Social Security numbers belonged to people who had not authorized Cisternino to use their identities.

Investigators said Cisternino used the $7.2 million to buy a Lincoln Navigator, a Maserati, Mercedes-Benz vehicles and a 12,579 sq. ft. home in Seminole County.

The DOJ said Cisternino fled to Switzerland when he learned he was under investigation for PPP loan fraud.

Officials said he was arrested on April 11, 2021, as he attempted to enter Croatia from Solvenia by way of Italy.

As part of his plea agreement, Cisternino agreed to forfeit the $7.2 million that he had obtained through the wire fraud, as well as assets traceable to the fraud, including the mansion and $1.1 million in funds held in bank accounts controlled by him or his associates, the DOJ said.

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