DC Pastor cashes in big time on CARES Act funds

(AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Rudolph Brooks Jr. is the founder of Kingdom Tabernacle of Restoration Ministries in the Washington, D.C. area. But he also has a day job operating an automobile dealership called Cars Direct by Gavawn. Like many small business owners, Pastor Brooks was hit hard by the pandemic and the government-mandated shutdown of his business. He was forced to lay off workers and cease operations. That’s why the government relief offered to small business owners like Brooks was such a blessing. He applied for more than two million dollars worth of forgivable loans and was able to take care of his workers. It’s a truly inspiring story of a man of the cloth finding his way through the storm with a bit of a boost from Uncle Sam. The one problem with this happy tale is that Brooks didn’t have any employees. It turns out that he took the government money and purchased expensive cars and padded his bank account. He’s now been charged with wire fraud and the government is moving to seize his property and bank accounts. (CBS Baltimore)

A DC pastor allegedly bought 39 cars, including a Tesla, and a property in Baltimore with CARES Act funds, a federal complaint says.

Rudolph Brooks Jr. of Cheltenham, Maryland was charged with federal wire fraud and the government can seize more than $2.2 million held in various bank accounts as well as a 2018 Tesla Model 3…

Brooks, who’s the pastor and founder of Kingdom Tabernacle of Restoration Ministries, owns Cars Direct by Gavawn HWD Bob’s Motors. The affidavit alleges that on May 9, Brooks applies for a PPP loan on behalf of Cars Direct in the amount of $1,556,589. In support of this ask, Brooks allegedly submitted fraudulent tax forms, reporting $724,469 in payments via Forms 1099-MISC and $7,471,630 in total unemployment payments to employees.

This was really quite the audacious attempt at fraud. It’s almost impressive. After investigators began digging through the records, they learned that no employees of Cars Direct had filed for unemployment. In fact, there were no tax records showing that any employees of Cars Direct had ever been paid anything. In reality, it appears that Cars Direct only existed in Rudolph Brooks’ mind. And yet he filled out all of the forms and was quickly able to receive millions of dollars that went directly into his pockets.

Brooks reportedly then opened up another “business” bank account in the name of Payroll by BJM and transferred $500,000 of the CARES funds into that. As you’ve likely already guessed, there is no record of a business called Payroll by BJM owned by Brooks either. He was just shuffling funds around to clutter the trail. Somewhere along the way he went out and bought himself a Tesla Model 3. I suppose that’s because it never hurts to look sharp in a snazzy set of wheels when you’re out doing the Lord’s work.

In addition to paying his mortgage and credit card bills, Brooks began buying cars at auctions. These included a Mercedes Benz S Class, two Infinity Q50s, a Cadillac Escalade, and a Bentley Continental. In all, he collected 39 cars.

This isn’t the first one of the COVID relief fund fraud stories we’ve covered here, but it’s obviously a disturbing pattern. On the one hand, the more charitable among us might say that since the authorities caught up to Brooks and are taking him to court, the system is working as intended, right? But I have a hard time being very sanguine about that explanation. Brooks was about as ham-handed as a person could be in attempting this fraud. A cursory check of the documents he submitted revealed the ruse immediately. What if there are other people out there who were noticeably more clever criminals and they avoided detection when their loans were audited?

And were they even audited in the first place? The government was processing literally tens of millions of these loans. Could they really do a thorough background check on each of them or did they just sample a specific percentage? It’s not hard to imagine them setting up a series of red flags to look for that would generate an automatic audit. But a clever enough fraudster might be able to fake their way through without setting off any alarms.

Right now we’re in the process of dishing out even more piles of cash in the same fashion thanks to the latest COVID relief bill that was passed. Let’s hope that someone is being a little more careful this time around.