PROVIDENCE — A Rhode Island man who says he has a gambling addiction was sentenced Tuesday to 82 months and one day in federal prison for defrauding the Paycheck Protection Program of nearly $600,000.
Michael Moller, 42, was on federal supervised release on a bank robbery conviction last year when he applied for more than $4.7 million in PPP loans — using his name and the names of his father, his girlfriend’s son, and his girlfriend’s brother.
The program was supposed to help small businesses struggling to remain afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Moller, a convicted felon from Middletown, didn’t have a small business, a federal prosecutor said. Instead, he spent the money gambling, on vacations in Las Vegas and New Hampshire, home renovations, a new Camaro, and other luxuries, Assistant US Attorney Lee Vilker told US District Court Judge Mary S. McElroy Tuesday morning.
And being arrested didn’t stop him. While incarcerated at Wyatt Detention Center in Central Falls awaiting trial, Moller turned to his fellow inmates for cash, posing as an immigration attorney and bilking two inmates of $17,000, Vilker said.
Defense attorney Thomas Briody argued that Moller needed treatment for his gambling compulsion. Moller apologized for his actions and the hurt he’d caused his family. “I have a terrible addiction to gambling,” Moller said, from a room at the Plymouth County Sheriff’s Office, where he said he’d been moved for security issues. “My mental health has not been good since my brother committed suicide. ... I need help to be a productive member of society.”
While offering compassion, the judge also noticed that Moller had been committing crimes for years and hadn’t changed. He fraudulently applied for the federal loans as soon as the program was announced, she said, and spent the money on various things, along with gambling.
“I am mindful that your addiction or compulsion drives some of this behavior, and you haven’t received treatment,” McElroy said. “But you also haven’t learned a lesson from incarceration. We send you to prison, but you don’t have an ‘aha moment.’ Prison alone isn’t doing it.”
She agreed with Briody that Moller needs mental health treatment and that there is a larger issue of high rates of incarceration.
However, in Moller’s case, “I don’t think there’s another solution to someone like you,” McElroy said. “You have to be incarcerated. That’s why we have it, to protect the public.”
She sentenced Moller to 70 months for defrauding banks, plus a year and a day for violating his supervised release, and recommended that he enter treatment through the Bureau of Prisons. At the end of his sentence, he must serve three years of supervised release and repay $599,251 to the banks.
McElroy also said Moller is not allowed to gamble, must submit to substance abuse testing, can’t apply for credit, and can’t hold a job with any fiduciary responsibility without approval of probation.
The sentence was less than the 94 months recommended by the federal prosecutor, but the judge said that it will protect the public from Moller while also allowing him to be released with enough time to rebuild his life.
Since 2009, Moller has been convicted of crimes nine times in state courts in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, and twice in federal courts. He has committed crimes while on supervised release. He committed crimes while in prison. He even robbed banks in Massachusetts — waving a BB gun and yelling for customers and tellers to hit the ground — while wearing an electronic bracelet for home confinement, Vilker said.
“We need to protect the public from Michael Moller,” Vilker said, “because he cannot help himself but defraud those around him.”
Briody acknowledged that Moller’s case wasn’t easy, but argued that a lengthy sentence was a temporary solution when Moller needed rehabilitation and treatment for a mental illness related to his gambling compulsion.
This was the second time in less than a week that a judge at the US District Court of Rhode Island has sentenced a defendant for defrauding the Paycheck Protection Program. David Adler Staveley, 54, of Andover, Massachusetts, was sentenced Thursday to 56 months in federal prison for filing four fraudulent loan applications totaling more than $543,700 for businesses he didn’t own. Staveley was the first person in the country charged with defrauding the federal business loan program.