US Instagram influencer admits to $1m COVID relief fraud

Federal prosecutors say self-proclaimed con artist Danielle Miller used stolen identities to obtain pandemic loans.

Pandemic business
The US Government Accountability Office said that more than 1,000 people have been convicted of fraud relating to federal COVID relief, aimed at helping individuals and businesses withstand the pandemic [File: Nam Y Huh/The Associated Press]

A social media influencer has pleaded guilty to using stolen identities to fraudulently obtain more than $1m in small business loans related to COVID relief programmes in the United States.

Danielle Miller’s lavish lifestyle — which she flaunted over Instagram — came crashing down when she was arrested in May 2021 at her luxury apartment in Miami, Florida.

Miller appeared by video on Monday before a federal judge in Boston to plead guilty to the wire fraud and aggravated identity theft charges.

The 33-year-old agreed to forfeit $1.3m and serve six years in prison, 16 months of which may overlap with a five-year sentence she received in October for a separate Florida bank fraud case. She is set to be sentenced on June 27.

A booking photo of Danielle Miller after she was arrested by the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office in 2020.
Social media influencer Danielle Miller is scheduled to face sentencing in June [Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office/Reuters]

Miller’s story captured public attention while underscoring the rampant fraud that accompanied a government rush to distribute more than $5 trillion in relief funds to people, businesses and local governments affected by the pandemic across the US.

Last week, the White House said US President Joe Biden plans to ask Congress to provide $1.6bn in new funding to crack down on fraud tied to the relief programmes.

The US Government Accountability Office said last month more than 1,000 people have been convicted of fraud relating to federal COVID relief.

For her part, Miller told New York Magazine in February 2022 that she considered herself a “con artist”.

The article detailed Miller’s progression from a student at the prestigious Horace Mann School to a socialite whose lifestyle quickly became dependent on crime. Her father is a lawyer and former New York State Bar Association president.

Miller had previously been arrested for using fake credit cards at a New York City spa and was sentenced to a year in prison.

After she was released, prosecutors said Miller used the identities of more than 10 people to fraudulently set up bank accounts and obtain the pandemic-related loans intended for small businesses.

She used the money for travel and luxury purchases such as a Rolex watch, a Louis Vuitton bag and Dior shoes, authorities said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies