The actor who played the Red Power Ranger in the hit ‘90s TV series has been charged for his alleged role in a fraud scheme that raked in $3.5 million meant for businesses struggling during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Department of Justice announced.
Austin St. John, whose legal name is Jason Lawrence Geiger, 47, was indicted last week in Texas, charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
He was one of 18 people indicted in the scheme which allegedly defrauded lenders and the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to receive loans they used for personal expenses, according to the Eastern District of Texas U.S. Attorney’s office’s news release Wednesday.
All were arrested or summoned for a court appearance, the release said.
Altogether the group is accused of fraudulently obtaining 16 loans totaling at least $3.5 million, officials said.
The ploy was allegedly led by Michael Hill and Andrew Moran, with Hill accused of recruiting co-conspirators to either “use an existing business or create a business” to submit applications to obtain PPP funding.
Moran allegedly assisted the co-conspirators with application paper work for the loans.
“On the applications, the defendants are alleged to have misrepresented material information such as the true nature of their business, the number of employees, and the amount of payroll,” the release stated.
The SBA and other financial institutions approved and issued loans to the defendants based off the applications. The PPP funds were part of the CARES Act, passed to provide emergency financial aid to Americans during the pandemic in 2020. The PPP funds were designed to help small businesses with job retention and other expenses.
But once the funds were obtained, the defendants didn’t use the money for employee salaries or health care benefits, officials said.
Instead they “typically” paid Hill and Moran, transferred money to their personal accounts and spent the money “on various personal purchases,” the release stated.
If convicted, the defendants face each up to 20 years in federal prison.
St. John’s lawyer, David Klaudt, told NBC News in a statement that his client has pleaded not guilty to the charge.
“An indictment is not evidence of guilt. All defendants are presumed innocent and Mr. St. John intends to vigorously defend himself against this allegation,” he said.
NBC News has reached out to attorneys for Hill and Moran for comment.
St. John is best known for his role in the children’s superhero show “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” as the Red Power Ranger, a character he first portrayed in 1993. He later became the Gold Ranger in 1996 in the “Power Rangers Zeo” TV show in 1996, according to IMDb.
He most recently appeared in the “Power Rangers Beast Morphers” in 2020 as the Red Ranger.
St. John was scheduled to appear this weekend at Des Moines Con, a comic book and pop culture event in Iowa, but the convention announced Thursday he would no longer attend due to “unforeseen personal obligations.”
“He sends his apologies and love to all those that were looking forward to meeting him. Austin plans to be here to meet all of his fans in 2023.,” the event’s statement said.