Federal Agent Spots Fugitive at Disney World, Arrests Him

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United States Postal Inspection Service Inspector Jeff Andre was investigating an alleged impersonation scheme that netted nearly $150,000 in fraudulent coronavirus relief loans. And although he bonded with a suspect and signed a criminal complaint in November 2021, it would take a chance encounter nearly a year later to arrest the alleged mastermind.

Of all places, it happened late last month at Disney World’s Animal Kingdom in Orlando, according to an arrest report from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.

Quashon Burton, 31, had been facing federal charges — two counts of theft of public funds and one count of impersonation — since Nov. 29, 2021. But when authorities tried to execute a warrant in December, Burton was nowhere to be found. His mother told officers Burton would not turn himself in, Ashley C. Nicolas, an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, wrote in a letter to Judge Lewis A. Kaplan.

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Prosecutors say the 31-year-old New York resident had been on the run for almost a year – until he was spotted by Andre at Disney’s biggest theme park in the US, home to around 2,000 animals, an Everest expedition simulation and an area inspired by the movie “Avatar”.

While on a pleasure trip to Animal Kingdom on Oct. 20, Andre spotted Burton — whose neck has a distinctive tattoo of a cursive “H” — and informed Disney World security, arrest records show. Officials from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office were later called to the scene. After confirming Burton’s federal warrant and obtaining a photo of him from Andre, deputies found Burton exiting the park at a bus stop with two family members.

According to the arrest report, Burton “questioned why he had to provide his identification” and initially gave officials a false name. He was asked “several times” to place his hands behind his back but he refused, the report said. Ultimately, an official took Burton “to the ground to secure him safely,” the report adds, which led to another charge: resisting an officer without violence.

Burton was then taken into local custody before being transferred to a federal prison. In his Oct. 26 letter to the judge, Nicolas, the prosecutor, said “law enforcement later learned that Burton had used a false identity at Disney World.”

“He has clearly demonstrated his ability to hide his true identity to evade law enforcement,” Nicolas wrote. “He also demonstrated a willingness to lie about that identity to avoid arrest.”

As a member of the House Small Business Committee, Rep. Chu also said the Small Business Administration did not collect important demographic information about the businesses it funded during the pandemic. “There definitely needs to be more oversight. One very, very disappointing thing was that the SBA didn’t require institutions to disclose whether the business was a business of color, a minority-owned business…a woman or a veteran. And because it hasn’t been implemented…we’ve lost some very valuable information about whether we’re truly serving small businesses in need. (Video: Washington Post Live)

Prosecutors allege Burton was able to secure Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans — which were intended to support small businesses during the pandemic but have been riddled with cases of fraud and deception — using a “complex web” of names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers of at least four victims throughout the summer of 2020.

Harvey Fishbein, Burton’s attorney, declined to comment on the allegations.

According to court records, on July 17, 2020, Burton filed PPP loan applications for two Texas-based businesses: a daycare center and a flooring company. But investigators alleged no such companies existed and accused Burton of using other people’s personal information and bank cards.

On July 20, 2020, a total of $149,800 in loans was deposited by the government into two bank accounts that Burton had access to, according to court records. A week later, officials say, he transferred some $10,000 to another account he had set up and attempted to buy more than $6,000 worth of money orders at a New York postal facility, a complaint alleges. .

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It would take investigators more than a year to gather enough evidence to seek an indictment. Yet, by the time the warrant for Burton’s arrest was served, authorities were unable to find him – that is, until the pair crossed paths in the “kingdom of animals… real, ancient and imagined,” such as the Animal Kingdom dedication plaque from 1998 readings.

After Burton’s arrest at the park, U.S. District Court Judge David A. Baker for the Middle District of Florida approved his release, on the condition that he be monitored by GPS. But prosecutors in the Southern District of New York – where his federal case is pending – said he was at “extreme flight risk” and urged him to remain in custody. Kaplan, the judge presiding over the case in New York, eventually agreed, citing Burton’s previous failures to appear on court orders and his attempts to evade law enforcement, according to court records.

On Friday, Baker rescinded the conditions of Burton’s release and ordered the US Marshals Service to transport Burton some 1,079 miles north of New York – where he faces “a serious sentence that includes a mandatory minimum sentence of two years”. , prosecutors said.

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