200916-localnews-fbi (copy)

The FBI searched Aston Homes on Main Street in Safford in September 2020, resulting in the filing of a fraud case in U.S. District Court.

A Gila Valley man accused of submitting fraudulent Paycheck Protection Program applications was sentenced to 10 months in prison Tuesday in U.S. District Court and ordered to pay $638,000 in restitution, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Esther J. Winne.

Austin VanScoyk, who was given 90 days to report to the Bureau of Prisons, could have been sentenced up to five years in prison. Numerous people filed letters in support of VanScoyk with the court.

According to court records, Austin VanScoyk, Jonathan VanScoyk and Sam Fiedler submitted fraudulent PPP applications for four entities under the group’s control: Bright Edge, Yellow Turtle, Aston Homes and Grand American Homes. The trio claimed that even though Grand American was dormant at the time, the four businesses combined had 36-171 employees and hundreds of thousands of dollars in monthly payroll and neither was true.

On April 26, 2020, Bright Edge was given a loan of $638,300 and four days later Grand American Homes was given a loan of $594,830.

According to court documents, after receiving the loans the VanScoyks “took various steps to conceal the conspiracy, including attempting to convince non-employees to purport to be employed by Bright Edge or Grand American Homes.”

After the bank began asking questions about the legitimacy of the Grand American Homes loan, court documents indicate Jonathan VanScoyk arranged for the loan proceeds to be returned.

The FBI was seen raiding Aston Homes on Sept. 11, 2020, in Safford.

Austin VanScoyk and Fiedler pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud on Dec. 3, 2020, the same day the criminal complaint was filed against them in federal court. Jonathan VanScoyk was identified as a co-conspirator in the complaint as was Austin VanScoyk’s “spouse”, but neither were charged.

In a two-page letter to Judge John Hideraker, the VanScoyks’ father, David, described Austin as a kind, thoughtful, patient and generous family man who started college at 13 and became a tenacious businessman with great negotiating skills.

“He has done a tremendous amount of good in his 34 years of life and he really truly likes people. I think part of his problem is people are jealous of him as he has been very successful in his early years,” David VanScoyk said. “People can be unkind unfortunately and he has borne the brunt of that at times.”

David VanScoyk told the judge Austin brought Fiedler on “thinking he could carry some of the load of the business and he believed he was someone he could trust (believing him to be a CPA) so much of the financial side of the business was turned over to him.”

David VanScoyk asked the judge not to impose any prison time, saying his son “has already been through so much.”

In her letter, Austin VanScoyk’s wife, Heidi, talks about how the couple’s three children, ages three, six and nine, were terrified during the FBI raid on their home and how the oldest two remain traumatized and need their father at home. She pleaded with the judge not to incarcerate her husband, saying she suffers from often-times debilitating depression and anxiety and he is her “superhero.”

“This last year has been brutal to him and our family. Austin has constantly beat himself up over so many things, at times reaching levels of depression I never would have thought possible for the naturally vibrant and happy person that he used to be,” Heidi VanScoyk wrote.

She continued, “I know that the last 14 months will stick with him for the rest of his life, and I also know that taking him from his family that he loves more than anything would completely break him.”

Safford City Councilmember Gene Seale wrote of Austin VanScoyk’s volunteerism through his church and the projects he’s worked on within the city. “I’ve always found him to be an upstanding individual and a pleasure to work with.”

David Cluff, a former business partner and investor of Austin VanScoyk’s, wrote a three-page letter to the judge and described him as a good man who is active in his church and a community volunteer.

“I don’t know much about their loan issues, but I want the court to understand how much confusion there was at the time about the PPP loans and I don’t believe that Austin knew any specifics about the loan application that Sam was filling out,” Cluff said.

Cluff wrote Austin VanScoyk lost all of his real estate agents and many of his construction workers, but he’s been able to get things “back on track.”

He also wrote that he hoped the judge would allow Austin and Jonathan VanScoyk to continue to serve the community.

“I was born and raised in Safford, my family has been in this area for over 150 years and I appreciate people that give back to this valley. The VanScoyks have done that and have continued to do so even with the uphill battle they have had after their reputations suffered because of their legal issues,” Cluff wrote.

Prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum that “a sentence that includes incarceration will deter comparable activities by sending the message that such behavior is unacceptable and will be adjudicated harshly within the District of Arizona and the Ninth Circuit...the exploitation of federal programs during a pandemic for financial gain cannot be tolerated in our society.”

Fiedler received eight months in prison in August and was also ordered to pay $638,000 in restitution. According to court documents, the restitution amount must be split between VanScoyk and Feidler, but if one of them does not pay for whatever reason, the other will have to pay all of it.

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