Chuluota man pleads guilty to $7.2 million COVID-19 fund theft, purchase of 12,500 sq. ft. home

A 46-year-old man from Chuluota who fled the country after finding out he was being investigated, has pled guilty to stealing more than $7.2 million in Paycheck Protection Program funds, some of which he used to purchase a 12,500 square-foot home in Seminole County.

Don V. Cisternino pled guilty this week to wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and illegal monetary transaction according to a press release from the United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida.

According to his PPP loan application, Cisternino claimed that his business, MagnifiCo, had 441 employees and monthly payroll expenses in 2019 of more than $2.8 million. Through their investigation, authorities learned that Cisternino had no employees, other than himself, and that he submitted false W-2’s, many of which listed the names and Social Security numbers of actual people.

None of those people were employed with MagnifiCo, and none of them authorized Cisternino to use their identities, according to court records.

After obtaining the loan, Cisternino did not use the funds for qualifying expenses, but rather, purchased multiple items for himself and others, including a Lincoln Navigator, a Maserati, multiple Mercedes-Benz vehicles, and a 12,579 square-foot mansion located in Seminole County.

Man purchases 12500 square foot home in Seminole County with fradulent PPP funds
Don V. Cisternino has pled guilty to using PPP loan funds to purchase cars and a 12,500 sq. ft. home in Seminole County

On January 22, 2021, after learning that he was under investigation for fraud, Cisternino fled to Switzerland. He was arrested on April 11, 2021, pursuant to an Interpol Red Notice, as he attempted to enter Croatia from Slovenia by way of Italy.

As part of his plea agreement, Cisternino agreed to forfeit the $7.2 million in proceeds that he had obtained through the wire fraud, as well as assets traceable to the fraud, including the 12,579 sq. ft. residence and approximately $1.1 million in funds from bank accounts controlled by him or his associates.

Cisternino faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison for the wire fraud, up to 10 years’ imprisonment for the illegal monetary transaction, and a mandatory consecutive sentence of 2 years in federal prison for the aggravated identity theft. A sentencing date has not yet been set, according to court records.

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