Saturday, June 22

Riviera Beach pastor arrested after Paycheck Protection Program money used to buy fast food, airline tickets

Prosecutors announced Monday they arrested six people in Palm Beach County who they claim bought luxury cars and expensive vacations with taxpayer dollars earmarked to keep their businesses open during the pandemic.

One of the businesses was a nonprofit affiliated with First Baptist Church, located along 12th Street in Riviera Beach, which was torn down almost two years ago.

But investigators said nonprofits that used the church’s address, allegedly run by the church’s pastor, received $1.1 million in taxpayer funds that prosecutors said he was not entitled to.

Two years ago, the aging church was fighting to stay open, but it defaulted on a $1.2 million loan for repairs.

Arrest documents showed the church’s pastor, Holmer Altidor, received three separate Paycheck Protection Program loans in 2020 and 2021 for nonprofits connected with the church.

“The loans he got, our investigation found [they] were undeserved and totaled over $1 million,” Ted Padich, an investigator for the Paycheck Protection Program fraud task force, said.

The church was torn down after a developer bought the property in 2022.

However, Altidor’s problems resurfaced a year later when Riviera Beach police and the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s office started investigating if the money was spent to keep people employed and the nonprofits active.

According to the arrest report, the PPP money was used to buy fast food, gas, car rental, airline tickets and restaurants, leading to Altidore’s arrest on fraud and money laundering charges.

“The particular person that was arrested created two different charities, organizations, businesses I guess, using the church’s address,” Riviera Beach police detective Jennifer Jones said.

Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg said his office has charged five other businesses, including a luxury car dealer, in the case.

James Paul, a Delray Beach tax preparer, was also arrested after investigators said he received more than $50,000 in PPP loans while he “collected unemployment benefits” with “over $17,000 in expenditures at the Seminole Casino.”

“It’s bad enough to do this to your fellow taxpayers. It’s worse when you do it during and after the COVID pandemic,” Aronberg said.

Aronberg said there are more Payroll Protection Plan fraud investigations underway, but admitted this kind of fraud is so widespread that prosecutors may only be able to arrest a fraction of those who committed the crime at the height of the COVID-19 epidemic.

“PPP fraudsters are being held accountable for fleecing taxpayers while our country was in the midst of a pandemic,” Aronberg said. “Citizens are encouraged to call the task force Tip Line: 1-844-324-5463.”

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