For Immediate Release
Buffalo Man Pleads Guilty to Multiple Drug, Gun and COVID-19 Fraud Crimes
BUFFALO, N.Y. - U.S. Attorney Trini E. Ross announced today that Joseph Bella, 49, of Buffalo, NY, pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute cocaine, being a drug user in possession of a firearm, and wire fraud before U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara. The charges carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, and a fine of $1,000,000.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys David J. Rudroff and Nicholas T. Cooper, who are handling the case, stated that on April 23, 2020, investigators executed a search warrant at Bella’s residence and recovered drug paraphernalia and quantities of cocaine, MDMA, and marijuana. Investigators also recovered a 12-gauge shotgun and ammunition. At that time, Bella was an unlawful user of controlled substances, including marijuana and cocaine.
In addition, Bella defrauded a Salt Lake City, Utah, corporation (Victim) that developed and manufactured COVID-19 test kits, by falsely representing that his company, Medcor Staffing, Inc., was laboratory certified to perform high-complexity molecular testing, that Medcor was an “end-user” of the tests, and that Medcor would not attempt to resell them. As a result, the Victim sold Bella 5,000 COVID-19 tests that he could not safely and accurately process, could not provide end-user support for, and, in fact, intended to re-sell at a substantial mark-up.
In March 2020, Bella advertised on his personal Facebook account that he was selling “FDA approved COVID-19 Test Kits.” In April 2020, Bella communicated with an undercover federal agent by telephone, text message, and email, falsely telling the agent that he had 50,000 COVID-19 tests for sale; that the COVID-19 tests were being stored in a warehouse in San Diego, California at -20 degrees Celsius; that Medcor was an “exclusive licensed reseller” of the tests; and that Medcor employed doctors and scientists to answer customers' questions. Bella attempted to sell the tests to the agent for $30 per test, or more, after fraudulently obtaining the tests for only $8 apiece.
Bella also fraudulently obtained a loan from the Small Business Association under the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) Program, which is designed to provide low-interest loans to qualifying small businesses to help them meet financial obligations and operating expenses in the event of a disaster. At Bella’s direction, a subordinate submitted a falsified application for a loan under the EIDL Program for another business Bella owns called BuyMyCard, a purchaser and re-seller of gift cards. The application grossly inflated BuyMyCard’s annual revenue, grossly underreported BuyMyCard’s annual expenses, and falsely stated that Bella was not subject to formal criminal charges at the time of the application. As a result of the falsified application, the SBA approved and funded a $149,900 loan to BuyMyCard under the EIDL Program.
The plea is the result of an investigation by the Homeland Security Investigations, under the direction of Acting Special Agent-in-Charge Matthew Scarpino; Customs and Border Protection, under the direction of Director of Field Operations Rose Brophy; U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Air and Marine Operations, under the direction of Brian Manaher; U.S. Border Patrol, under the direction of Patrol Agent in Charge Jeffrey T. Wilson; the United States Postal Inspection Service, under the direction of Inspector-in-Charge Ketty Larco-Ward of the Boston Division; the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, under the direction of Special Agent-in-Charge John B. Devito, New York Field Division; and Buffalo Police Department, under the direction of Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia.
Sentencing is scheduled for October 7, 2022, before Judge Arcara.