By: Benyamin Davidsons
A Brooklyn woman has pleaded guilty to defrauding the government by posing as a health care worker during the COVID-19 pandemic to qualify for the city’s hotel room isolation program and then allegedly rented out the rooms.
As reported by Crain’s NY, Tatiana Daniel admitted on Tuesday that she pretended she was a respiratory therapist and throughout the pandemic sold over 144 nights of hotel stays to customers through Facebook. The U.S. Department of Justice said she allegedly worked with co-conspirators including Chanette Lewis, who managed calls and reservations for the city’s hotel program in 2020. The program had been launched in March 2020 to provide health care workers and Covid-19 patients free room and board to quarantine, so their families wouldn’t be at risk.
Two other women– Tatiana Benjamin and Heaven West, were also charged in the DOJ fraud investigation. Together, the team allegedly sold over 2,700 nights of hotel stays, costing the government roughly $400,000. The suspects were arrested in October 2021. “Today I will be doing hotels from 2pm – 9pm,” Daniel had posted on Facebook, as per court documents. “If you would like to book a hotel please comment below 300$ 1 month 250 $20 days 150$ 10 days 100$ 3 days MUST BE CASH APP READY”.
Daniel, 28, also raked up other crimes, reaping benefits from the pandemic including: selling fake Covid-19 test results both positive and negative in July and August 2021; making fraudulent applications for federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (“EIDL”) program; and stealing the identities of 10 persons in order to collect $97,000 in unemployment benefits. She also allegedly filed unemployment benefits applications in other states, but was unsuccessful.
As per Crain’s, Daniel pleaded guilty before United States Magistrate Judge Ona T. Wang to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. In her plea agreement, she agreed to forfeit $109,655 and to pay restitution of $401,206, as per the U.S. Attorney’s Office press release. “As she admitted today, Tatiana Daniel repeatedly took advantage of resources offered to aid people and businesses in crisis”, U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said. “Daniel’s misconduct included selling fabricated COVID-19 test results, which likely put members of the public at risk of contracting the deadly virus from one of Daniel’s customers. Daniel now faces possible prison time for her illegal and dangerous actions.” Daniel is scheduled for her sentencing on March 29.
The trial for her three alleged co-conspirators is scheduled take place Jan. 17. Chanette Lewis, 30-year-old Queens woman who was working at a 311 call center, is charged with fraud, conspiracy, and identity theft in connection to the city’s Hotel Room Isolation Program. Lewis is also accused of illegally collecting $45,000 in COVID-19 unemployment benefits while she was being paid a city paycheck. She faces a maximum of 72 years in prison if found guilty.
“During the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic, while this City grappled with soaring transmission and death rates, these defendants exploited the very City-run program meant to provide respite and isolation to healthcare workers and City residents desperately trying to find space to quarantine and stem the spread of the virus,” DOI Commissioner Margaret Garnett said.