A Lowcountry resident and active duty soldier has pleaded guilty in Georgia to defrauding the US government by operating relief programs aimed at helping struggling businesses and disabled veterans.
Dara Buck, 39, of Ladson is awaiting sentencing after admitting she ran a “prolific” scheme that cost taxpayers more than $4.5 million over nearly four years, investigators say.
Buck, also known as Dara Butler, is an Army Chief Warrant Officer assigned to Fort Stewart, southwest of Savannah.
She waived her right to be indicted by a grand jury and pleaded guilty July 14 in federal court to participating in a conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States.
She faces up to five years in prison, restitution and three years in a supervised release program. A sentencing hearing has not been scheduled.
“Dara Buck was sworn to protect and defend her country and then engaged in a massive scheme to defraud the nation’s taxpayers,” said David Estes, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia.
Investigators said his involvement in the criminal activity began in August 2017 and ended in May 2021.
Most of the scams involved repayable loans the US Small Business Administration offered through its Payroll Protection Program, which was launched as an emergency measure in early 2020 to help US employers preserve jobs at the height of the COVID-19 crisis.
Buck admitted to having completed and submitted more than 150 fraudulent PPP applications from December 2020 – accompanied by “fictitious tax documents containing shelled financial figures” – to obtain more than $ 3.5 million for herself and associates not identified. She also received fees ranging from $500 to $1,000 for each transaction and received more than $100,000 in loans, according to court documents.
The co-conspirators also blamed “third parties” who profited from the government scheme.
Additionally, Buck admitted to sending fake letters from the Department of Veterans Affairs to the U.S. Department of Education to erase 12 federal student loans totaling more than $1 million. The purpose of the forged documents was to verify that the borrowers, who each paid him $350 to $500, were unable to work due to permanent military-related disabilities.
In one case, a debt was forgiven “for someone who wasn’t even a veteran,” said David Spilker, officer in charge of the VA Southeast Inspector General’s office.
While his Army posting is in Georgia, Buck owns a home in Ladson, according to public property records.
Contact John McDermott at 843-937-5572 or follow him on Twitter at @byjohnmcdermott