Austin St. John attends the "Power Rangers" premiere at the Westwood Village Theatre in Los Angeles on March 22, 2017. St. John has been indicted on conspiracy to commit wire fraud charges. File Photo by Christine Chew/UPI | License Photo
May 20 (UPI) -- A federal grand jury in Texas has indicted Austin St. John, an actor known for playing in the Red Power Ranger in various TV shows and movies, on fraud charges related to a COVID-19 relief scheme.
The indictment said St. John, born Jason Geiger, and 17 other people primarily in Texas took part in a scam to fraudulently obtain $3.5 million in loans from the Paycheck Protection Program. The PPP was part of the CARES Act, a $2.2 trillion relief package meant to assist individuals and businesses financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 18 people named in the indictment face a charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Texas. A release from the office Wednesday names Michael Hill of Mineral Wells, Texas, and Andrew Moran of Lewisville, Texas, as the ringleaders in the scheme.
Prosecutors said Hill recruited people to participate in the scam, while Moran assisted the individuals with fabricating information and submitting applications 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 attorney's office said. "Based on these material misrepresentations, the [Small Business Association] and other financial institutions approved and issued loans to the defendants."
Prosecutors said the defendants didn't use the funding as intended, instead paying Hill and Moran, and transferring money to their own personal accounts. In some cases, they sent money to another of the defendants -- Jonathon Spencer of Rowlett, Texas -- to invest in foreign exchange markets.
A statement posted to St. John's Twitter account by a representative said he didn't know most of the individuals named in the indictment.
"It is our understanding that Austin put his faith, reputation and finances in the hands of third parties whose goals were self-centered and ultimately manipulated and betrayed his trust," the statement read.
"We expect Austin's legal team to successfully defend against these charges and lead to his ultimate exoneration.?
If convicted, each of the defendants face up to 20 years in prison.
St. John appeared in the first two seasons of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers to air in the United States starting in 1993. He also played the Red Power Ranger in Power Rangers Zeo, Power Rangers Wild Force, Power Rangers Beast Morphers, and the movie Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie.