Chuluota man who bought 12,000 sq. ft home gets 8.5 years in prison for theft of $7.2 million in COVID-19 funds

A 47-year-old man from Chuluota who fled the country after finding out he was being investigated, has been sentenced to more than eight years in federal prison for stealing $7.2 million in Paycheck Protection Program funds, some of which was used to purchase a 12,500 square-foot home in Seminole County.

Don V. Cisternino was sentenced to eight years and six months in federal prison for wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and illegal monetary transaction by U.S. District Judge Wendy W. Berger on Thursday, January 12. The court also ordered Cisternino to forfeit over $1.07 million seized from five different bank accounts. Additionally, the court entered an order of forfeiture for $7.21 million for the monies made from the wire fraud scheme.

Cisternino must also pay restitution of $7.44 million to the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Cisternino, who pled guilty in September, 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 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 purchased this home in Seminole County with funds he stole from the PPP

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.

Cisternino had faced a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison for the wire fraud, 10 years’ imprisonment for the illegal monetary transaction, and a mandatory consecutive sentence of 2 years in federal prison for the aggravated identity theft.

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