Donald Finley, the owner of the now-shuttered Jekyll and Hyde Club horror-themed restaurant in New York City, pleaded guilty to using Covid-relief fraud, using $3.2 million in federal loans, the purpose of which was to keep his business afloat and paying employees, to buy a house in Nantucket and other personal items.
The restaurant was decorated to look like a British club, but with spooky props, animatronic monster figures that would pop into life at random times, and live actors who would put on horror performances and interact with patrons.
But sometimes the real evil is even scarier than the themed evil.
"Finley has admitted diverting millions of dollars in COVID-19 disaster relief funds to finance his personal expenses, including the purchase of a home in Nantucket, Massachusetts," stated United States Attorney Peace. "This Office will continue investigating and prosecuting those, like the defendant, who shamelessly steal from government programs that were intended for struggling small businesses and families during the pandemic."
The Covid relief loan programs have often proven to be a massive marshmallow test for businesses at best, and an opportunity for premeditated fraud at worst. From NPR:
"The PPP [Paycheck Protection Program] program seems to have resulted in billions of dollars of fraudulent loans that have ultimately turned into grants," said Samuel Kruger, an assistant professor of finance at the University of Texas at Austin who co-authored a paper estimating that $64 billion of the nearly $800 billion in loans issued show signs of fraud, such as suspiciously high payrolls and multiple businesses listed at the same home address.
The SBA [Small Business Administration] disputes those findings, but its own inspector general has estimated that at least 70,000 loans are potentially fraudulent. An unknown additional number of loans went to companies that didn't need PPP funding to survive the pandemic.
And although the Justice Department and other federal agencies have up to 10 years to prosecute pandemic fraud, the SBA's inspector general has called that pursuit a "pay-and-chase" situation unlikely to recover much money.
At one time there were two locations of the spooky themed Jekyll and Hyde Club, but since 2015 only the original location in Greenwich Village, which opened in 1991, remained. The federal loans were intended to keep that location operating, but we know what happened to that — and it closed in 2022.
Finley still owns a small theme park in Bayville, Long Island, Bayville Adventure Park. But probably not for long.