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Man charged in COVID loan fraud
  • Updated

TRIAD — A Randolph County man is accused of getting more than $1.5 million in coronavirus pandemic relief money through fraudulent business loans.

A federal grand jury in Charlotte indicted Maurice Kamgaing, 41, of Archdale, formerly of Charlotte, on charges accusing him of obtaining COVID-19 relief funds by submitting fraudulent Paycheck Protection Program loan applications on behalf of two businesses, said William Stetzer, acting U.S. attorney for the Western District of North Carolina.

The indictment alleges that the two loan applications contained false and misleading information and fraudulent supporting documentation about the two businesses, including fake federal tax filings and payroll reports.

In April 2020, Kamgaing filed an application for a loan for Apiagne Inc. that included false information about the company’s purported payroll and fraudulent documentation about its monthly payroll disbursements, a Justice Department press release said. For example, according to the indictment, Apiagne’s loan application falsely represented that the company had an average monthly payroll of $260,000 and needed the loan to support its ongoing operation and its 46 employees.

In May 2020, Apiagne received a loan for $856,463, which Kamgaing used for his personal benefit, according to federal prosecutors.

Also in April 2020, Kamgaing filed another loan application on behalf of AKC Solutions, which falsely represented that the company had 23 employees and had an average payroll of $260,000.

In May 2020, AKC Solutions received a loan for $650,000, and within days of receiving the loan Kamgaing used it for improper purposes and personal expenses, according to federal prosecutors.

Both loans were applied for through the PPP program guaranteed by the U.S. Small Business Administration, federal prosecutors say.

Kamgaing is charged with wire fraud in relation to a disaster benefit, which carries a maximum prison sentence of 30 years in prison. He also is charged with two counts of making false statements to a bank, which carry a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison per count.

Kamgaing also is charged with two counts of engaging in monetary transactions in criminally derived property, which carry a maximum prison term of 10 years per count.

Local nonprofits get food security grants
  • Updated

HIGH POINT — The Greater High Point Food Alliance awarded a total of more than $58,400 in Food Security Fund grants to 17 local nonprofit efforts.

Marsh Hester, Food Security Fund grant committee chairman, announced the awards Thursday during a press conference at the High Point Public Library teaching garden, one of the grant recipients. This is the most FSF money awarded compared to the previous two grant cycles, Hester said.

“Our third cycle of grants has seen a shift from investing not just in brand new projects but to the development and expansion of previous recipients’ projects to create more capacity to serve a larger portion of the community,” Hester said.

For example, some of the funding will be used to replace untreated wood that was used to build raised beds in community gardens, while other grants will help educate community members about gardening and nutrition.

One highlight of the grant process is in recognizing local nonprofits’ entrepreneurial and innovative spirit, said Carl Vierling, executive director of the alliance.

The grant program was launched in September 2018 at the alliance’s fourth annual Food Security Summit. In May 2019, $50,000 was disbursed to a variety of programs. Last year, $30,000 was awarded.

Willa Mays, executive director of Growing High Point, said its grant for community gardens will help provide food where it’s needed.

“Research shows that community gardeners and their families consume twice as many vegetables when compared to the general population, and we know that kind of behavior leads to improved health. Gardening also reduces stress and is a great way to foster community relationships,” she said.

Chris McGee, executive director of Helping Hands, said the 53-foot refrigerated trailer its grant helped finance will also aid other nonprofits or local grocery stores in the event of a natural disaster.

“Our whole goal is to make sure we have a backup plan to not lose the food,” McGee said. “If we have a big ice storm or another tornado come through that does severe damage and knocks out part of the power grid to a grocery store, we can get those perishable products, put them in there and be able to do a parking lot distribution.”

Antoine Dalton, social services director with The Salvation Army of High Point’s Center of Hope, said the funding to create a new garden will provide families staying in the shelter with an activity and teach gardening skills.

Amy Hudson, executive director of the Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club, said their grant will go to a garden program and includes rain gauges, rain barrels, butterfly bushes and fruit.

“Our kids will grow, harvest and weigh, so they’re learning math, responsibility and some science,” Hudson said.

The grant recipients are:

• Covenant United Methodist Church — $4,000 to refurbish and expand garden beds

• The Arc of High Point — $1,797 to buy plants, gardening supplies and a shed.

• High Point Public Library Teaching Garden — $1,800.

• Kiwanis Boys & Girls Club — $4,000 to buy supplies to maintain tower gardens.

• West End Ministries’ Bountiful Harvest Garden — $4,000.

• Homegrown Heroes — $4,000 to expand community garden and provide nutrition classes.

• Triad Health Project — $4,000 to start a community garden on Gatewood Avenue.

• St. Stephen Metropolitan AME Zion Church — $4,000 to start a community garden at the Moorehead Rec Center.

• The Salvation Army of High Point Boys & Girls Club — $2,956.

• Salvation Army of High Point Center of Hope — $4,000.

• Junior League of High Point — $2,190 to host a crock-pot cooking class.

• D-UP Inc. Eatery Sprout Project — $4,000 to buy cooking supplies.

• High Point Community Against Violence — $4,000 to pay ex-offenders to work at food pantries as needed.

• Growing High Point Food Hub — $4,000 for heating and plumbing work.

• Growing High Point for High Point Community Gardens I — $3,730 to buy tools and lumber.

• Growing High Point for High Point Community Gardens II — $1,924 to buy tools and lumber.

• Helping Hands — $4,000 for a refrigerated trailer.

cingram@hpenews.com | 336-888-3534 | @HPEcinde

Coffee company moving to High Point

HIGH POINT — A California-based coffee company is moving its headquarters to the city in an expansion that’s expected to create 44 jobs over the next two years and more beyond that.

Puroast Coffee Co. Inc. has leased a 36,000-square-foot building in south High Point and will invest more than $1.5 million in machinery, equipment and building improvements to establish a new roasting, packaging and distribution operation, said CEO Kerry Sachs.

The company last year decided to move east from Woodland, California, to be closer to its consumers, and it initially looked at five states.

“High Point came out on top after an extensive search to locate our new operations,” Sachs said. “The workforce, location, manufacturing infrastructure, quality of life and the warm invitation from the (city) economic development team all contributed to our decision.”

Puroast produces what it markets as a low-acid coffee based on a roasting process learned from Venezuelan coffee growers.

The company is experiencing rapid growth, he said, selling its coffee to grocery stores and through online platforms.

It also has a pilot retail store in Miami that’s been “very successful, and we’re anxious to expand that and bring a retail store up here,” Sachs said.

Puroast brought four of its employees from California to High Point and plans to start adding new jobs as its operations get up and running here, he said.

Most of the positions will be roasting technicians and other personnel who operate the new coffee production facility, as well as packaging, inventory and logistics jobs.

Its sales staff is largely on the West Coast to service its customers there, but Sachs said they will move east starting next year.

He said he expects to add 44 jobs in High Point by the end of 2022 and more beyond that.

pkimbrough@hpenews.com | 336-888-3531

BuzziSpace to close local HQ

HIGH POINT — Belgian furniture maker BuzziSpace is closing its North American headquarters in High Point.

The company will vacate 1200 Redding Drive by the time its lease on the historic mill building where it’s been since 2014 expires on June 30, according to Dwain Skeen, a commercial Realtor who represents the owner of the property.

“They’re in the process of moving out and consolidating in some other spaces,” Skeen said. “Their manufacturing is, I think, essentially going back to Europe.”

Representatives of BuzziSpace and its parent company, Haworth, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

The 115-year-old, 105,000-square-foot building, best known as the former Pickett Cotton Mill, is for sale.

BuzziSpace came to High Point in 2014 with much fanfare.

Then-Gov. Pat McCrory made the announcement at City Hall that the company had picked High Point for the North American headquarters of its office furniture manufacturing operations.

BuzziSpace planned to create 113 jobs and invest more than $1.75 million over five years, McCrory announced.

The city touted the project as an important revitalization boost for the southwestern part of town, which once was the industrial core of High Point but has long struggled with blight and crime as furniture and textile companies closed.

The Pickett building, which was also a Claude Gable Furniture facility at one point, had long been vacant at the time BuzziSpace came along.

McCrory returned two months after the announcement for a press conference at BuzziSpace on a statewide historic preservation tax-credit initiative he was proposing.

The City Council in 2013 authorized up to $162,000 in incentives for the company.

BuzziSpace requested and received a partial incentive payment of $39,852 in 2018 from the city, according to Sandy Dunbeck, interim director of the High Point Economic Development Corp. At that point, the company had 30 positions that it documented to the city. No other payments have been requested or made, she said.

BuzziSpace’s incentives agreement with the city called for the company to create all 113 jobs, with average annual wages of $41,011, by August 2019 in order to receive the full amount of the grant.

Failing to maintain the required number of employees or vacating its office and manufacturing center at 1200 Redding Drive could have constituted a breach of the agreement and required BuzziSpace to reimburse the city any incentive money it received, but the agreement terminated in December 2019.

BuzziSpace was also authorized for $113,000 in incentives from Guilford County and $100,000 from the state, but neither paid the company anything.

Skeen said BuzziSpace had an option to purchase the building at one point but never did after the brand was acquired by office furniture company Haworth in 2018.

“After Haworth had a controlling interest, they chose not to purchase. The original BuzziSpace players were actually planning to purchase the building,” he said.

Haworth in January closed its longtime seating manufacturing plant on English Road in High Point.

The Pickett building sits on 5.4 acres, and the entire property, which includes two smaller structures, is on the market for $1.95 million.

“It’s an excellent older mill building. It was very well-maintained by all the owners that have had it, as well as BuzziSpace. The structure is solid,” Skeen said.

Dunbeck said the BuzziSpace project spurred the renovation of the building.

“The unoccupied mill went from a building with paint falling off the wall to a beautifully redone workspace making modern day sound-abating materials, cubicles and seating for clients like Facebook and Google,” she said.

The project brought other benefits, she said, such as Splashworks, a spinoff business that has grown downtown.

pkimbrough@hpenews.com | 336-888-3531