North Texas actor who played Red Power Ranger among 18 facing COVID fraud charges

·2 min read
Chris Pizzello/AP

A Texas man who at one point played a Power Ranger in the kids’ TV show by the same name has been arrested and charged in a COVID loan fraud scheme, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Texas.

The Justice Department said “Jason Lawrence Geiger, a/k/a Austin St. John a/k/a the Red Power Ranger, 47, of McKinney,” was one of 18 people indicted on federal charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. In the end, at least $3.5 million was defrauded from the Paycheck Protection Program.

Michael Hill, 47, of Mineral Wells, and Andrew Moran, 43, of Lewisville, are accused of being the organizers of the conspiracy, according to a news release from the Justice Department. They’re accused of recruiting the 16 other people to participate in a conspiracy in which they defrauded the government’s Paycheck Protection Program, a special loan designed in response to economic turmoil during the pandemic.

Moran helped co-conspirators with their applications, including creating falsified supporting documentation and submitting the applications through an online portal, according to the Justice Department.

The Justice Department said the applications misrepresented the defendants’ businesses’ true nature, the number of employees they had hired and the amount of payroll they needed to have for those employees. The Small Business Administration and other financial institutions approved their applications for the loans based on the falsified documentation.

The defendants did not use the money to pay employees, cover overhead costs, make payments on outstanding debts or ensure employee benefits continued throughout the pandemic, according to the Justice Department.

Instead, in some cases they used the money for personal purchases after paying some of it to Moran and Hill and transferring money into personal bank accounts, according to the Justice Department. In other cases, they gave the money to Jonathan Spencer, 33, of Rowlett, to invest in foreign exchange markets, the release said.

Each of the defendants could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

The Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, was a part of the CARES Act that was enacted in March 2020 with the intention of helping Americans weather the financial effects of COVID-19. The act came with up to $349 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses. In April 2020, Congress added another $300 billion in additional funding for the PPP.

The other people charged were:

  • Peter Keovongphet, 34, of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

  • Ty Alan Burkhart, 34, of Frisco

  • Eric Reed Marascio, 50, of Allen

  • Christopher Lee McElfresh, 43, of Frisco

  • Cord Dean Newman, 44, of Homosassa, Florida

  • 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, Florida

  • Daniel Lee Warren, 33, address unknown

  • Rajaa Bensellam, 49, of Allen

  • Hadi Mohammed Taffal, 50, of Allen.

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