Federal prosecutors say that 18 people—including an actor who portrayed a color-coded superhero in an iconic 1990s-era TV show—conspired to steal funds from a government program aimed at helping small businesses survive the coronavirus pandemic.
Jason Lawrence Geiger, 47, was indicted Wednesday in connection with an alleged scheme over COVID-19 relief. Geiger, also known as Austin St. John, is best known as an actor on the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, a long-running children’s adventure program.
Even the Department of Justice highlighted Geiger’s acting career in its press release, identifying him as “the Red Power Ranger.” His character was one of a group of five (fictional) teenagers who defended Earth from alien attacks. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers originally ran from 1993 to 1996.
According to authorities, lead defendants Michael “Tank” Lewayne Hill, 47, and Andrew Charles Moran, 43, plotted to defraud lenders and the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, which was launched in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, when businesses were forced to shut down.
“Hill is alleged to have recruited co-conspirators to use an existing business or create a business to submit applications to obtain PPP funding,” the DOJ wrote. “Once enlisted, Moran is alleged to have assisted his co-conspirators with the application paperwork, including fabricating supporting documentation and submitting the application through the online portals. On the applications, the defendants are alleged to have misrepresented material information such as the true nature of their business, the number of employees, and the amount of payroll. Based on these material misrepresentations, the SBA and other financial institutions approved and issued loans to the defendants.”
Defendants did not use the money as intended, prosecutors allege. The cash should have been for paying employees, covering debt or utility payments, or continuing health benefits for employee. Instead, the defendants allegedly put that money in personal accounts and used it for personal purposes.
“The defendants sent the fraudulently obtained funds to Jonathon [James] Spencer for purported investment in foreign exchange markets,” the DOJ wrote. “In total, the defendants are alleged to have fraudulently obtained at least 16 loans and at least $3.5 million.”
Spencer, 33, is among the 18 defendants.
Geiger, however, is the one getting the attention, thanks to his acting background. Under the stage name name Austin St. John, he was the first-ever Red Ranger on the Power Rangers show, which was a long-running adaptation of various team-based superhero shows from Japan. Episodes largely stuck to an entrenched formula in which the five color-coded heroes fight monsters, get into big robots to fight bigger monsters, and combine those robots into a giant to defeat the most serious challenges.
This time, Geiger allegedly got involved with the wrong team. He and his co-defendants are charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud. If convicted, they face up to 20 years in federal prison, the DOJ says.
“I can confirm that Jason Geiger was indicted and has pled not guilty to the single count contained in the indictment,” Geiger attorney David Klaudt told Law&Crime in an email. “The indictment is not evidence of guilt. All defendants are presumed innocent and Mr. Geiger intends to vigorously defend himself against this allegation.”
Attorney James Bright–who represents defendant Ty Alan Burkhart, 34–declined to comment.
Attorneys for Geiger, Hill, Moran, and Spencer did not immediately respond to Law&Crime’s request for comment.
Neither did attorneys for co-defendants Rajaa Bensellam, 49, Alexander Eric Cortesano, 52, Gregory Fitzgerald Hatley Jr., 38, Fabian C. Hernandez, 44, Eric Reed Marascio (aka Phoenix Marcon), 50, Christopher Lee McElfresh, 43, Cord Dean Newman, 44, Arthur Atik Pongtaratik, 33, and Hadi Mohammed Taffal, 50.
Elmer Omar Ayala, 45, Peter “Lil’ Pete” Keovongphet, 34, Miles Justin Urias, 34, and Daniel Lee Warren, 33, have no attorneys of record.
Most of the defendants are from Texas, with others from Florida, or in the case of Warren, an “unknown address.”
[Image via Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images]
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]