A federal judge in Fort Myers, Fla., sentenced Casey David Crowther, 35, the owner of a successful Florida roofing contracting company, to 37 months in prison for using fictitious employee lists to obtain a $2.7-million federal pandemic-aid loan and then purchasing a $689,000 boat with the funds.

The conviction brought to an end the only case of Paycheck Protection Program fraud involving a substantial construction contractor.

[View Dept. of Justice press release here.]

Crowther, the third generation of roofing contractors in his family, was described in news accounts of the June 29 sentencing hearing as contrite and apologetic. He requested an additional month to what was a 36-month sentence in order to qualify for substance-abuse treatment.

County sheriffs arrested Crowther last September. Prosecutors claimed he also used the loan funds to make a $100,000 payment to a former partner. A jury convicted Crowther after a week-long trial in March.

In April, Crowther's attorneys sought one last time to have the conviction overturned or a new trial ordered. But Judge John E. Steele refused.

The $510-billion PPP program relied on private banks as fast-acting funnels for money delivered under supervision of the U.S. Small Business Administration. A cornerstone of the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic economic crisis, federal officials recognized that the program's speedy pace could invite abuse.

The U.S. Justice Dept. charged Crowther with bank fraud, making false statements to a bank and illegal monetary transactions  Crowther's attorneys at first claimed the the boat was to be resold at a profit, and that such a use was legitimate under the rules of the program.

Federal officials had designated that the  PPP loans, which are forgivable, could be applied to specific expenses such as salaries, rent and utility costs. Crowther's lawyers also blamed the evolving PPP loan rules for tripping up Crowther.

Crowther's company, Target Roofing & Sheet Metal, continues to operate. In his statement at his sentencing, Crowther apologized to his staff.

Steele ordered Crowther, who resides in Pensacola, to surrender to begin his prison term in a federal prison starting July 30, to forfeit the $2.7 million and to undergo 36 months of court supervision following his imprisonment.