When the coronavirus pandemic slowed business at Dana L. McIntyre’s already flailing Boston-area pizzeria in early 2020, he, like millions of other Americans, applied for pandemic relief.
Mr. McIntyre received more than $660,000 from the federal government. But instead of spending it on the pizzeria, he used the majority of the money to buy a farm in Vermont, eight alpacas, a pickup truck and a vintage car.
On Wednesday, a federal judge in Massachusetts sentenced him to two years in prison and ordered him to pay nearly $680,000, the Justice Department said. Mr. McIntyre, 59, pleaded guilty in April to four counts of wire fraud and three counts of money laundering.
“This was no momentary lapse in the fog of the pandemic,” Joshua S. Levy, the acting U.S. attorney for Massachusetts, said in a statement. “He stole from the American taxpayers and the many small businesses which truly needed those loans to survive.”
In a phone interview on Wednesday evening, Mr. McIntyre, who said he must report to prison in January, claimed that he had viewed the money as a loan that he would someday pay back. “It was a pandemic, and I panicked,” said Mr. McIntyre, who is also the host of a cryptocurrency radio show.
Mr. McIntyre is among more than 3,100 Americans who have been charged with pandemic relief fraud as federal prosecutors scramble to recoup billions of dollars from people who falsely obtained money from government programs that were intended to keep the economy afloat during the Covid-related shutdowns.
According to federal investigators, in March 2020, Mr. McIntyre, then the owner of Rasta Pasta Pizzeria in Beverly, a Boston suburb, used the names of his adult children to apply for two loans for businesses that did not exist, including one named “Dana’s Dank Pies.”
The following month, he applied to receive unemployment benefits, falsely claiming that he was not working or receiving income as a result of the pandemic, federal prosecutors said. Mr. McIntyre also submitted a fraudulent application under the Paycheck Protection Program for more than $660,000, they added, saying that he had falsified tax forms and inflated information about the pizzeria’s payroll expenses and employees, claiming there were 47, when he had just a few.
“It’s just putting some numbers and letters and pretty much whatever you want,” Mr. McIntyre said by phone. “Instead of putting seven employees I put 47. That’s my crime. That’s the beginning of the crime. And that’s the end of the crime.”
In September 2020, after receiving the money, Mr. McIntyre sold the restaurant and used most of the federal funds to buy the farm in Vermont. He also used some on personal expenses, including a $14,000 pickup truck and a 1950 Hudson worth $8,500, federal investigators said. He also made seven payments totaling $6,500 to the broadcaster of his podcast, “The Dana Crypto Show,” and spent thousands more on home construction and kitchen remodeling, as well as more than $2,000 at a cosmetic spa in Massachusetts, investigators said.
In 2021, after buying the alpacas, Mr. McIntyre opened Houghtonville Farm, about 100 miles northwest of Boston. A website for the farm says that it offers the opportunity to hand feed the animals or stroll with them, on-leash, by the Saxtons River. The property also has a farmhouse listed on Airbnb.
Speaking Wednesday, Mr. McIntyre said he had also used cryptocurrency funds to buy and repair the property, which, he said, he did not initially plan to turn into an alpaca farm. “I saw an ad on Craigslist for a farm that was going out of business,” he said. He maintained that he had bought the first two alpacas as “lawn ornaments” but that as the animals drew interest, he decided to create a business.
“It wasn’t this mastermind program to steal money from the government and go up and start this alpaca farm,” he said. “No, it unfolded and it took on its own life form.”