Damara Holness gets 20 months in COVID fraud case

Daughter of ex-Broward mayor apologizes after sentencing, must repay $300K

Damara Holness, daughter for former Broward County mayor and commissioner Dale Holness, pleaded guilty to defrauding the Paycheck Protection Program meant for small-business relief during the COVID-19 pandemic.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Damara Holness, former president of the Broward County Democratic Black Caucus and daughter of ex-Broward mayor Dale Holness, was sentenced Monday to 20 months in prison.

Holness, 29, had pleaded guilty in November to conspiracy to commit wire fraud. She was also sentenced to five years supervised release after her prison time and to pay $300,000 in restitution.

Prosecutors say she applied for $300,000 worth of aid from the COVID-19 Paycheck Protection Program using fraudulent payroll tax forms that indicated her company employed 18 people and had about $120,000 in monthly payroll expenses — while she actually didn’t have any employees. A bank in Georgia approved Holness Consulting’s loan application based on the lies and wired $300,000 to the company’s bank account in Florida, authorities said.

Holness was granted 90 days to surrender and begin serving her time.

She cried and apologized to her family during her court appearance in Fort Lauderdale on Monday.

“It’s a mistake that I made, and I’m putting it in my past to move forward,” she said in an interview outside court after the sentencing. “I apologize to the community, I apologize to my family, I apologize to my friends. And, most importantly, I apologize to my dad, whose career really took a toll from my own wrongdoings.”

Dale Holness, the former Broward mayor, stepped down from the county commission to run for the District 20 U.S. congressional seat and was narrowly defeated by Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick in the Democratic primary in November. His daughter’s charges were first revealed in August.

“She’s made a mistake,” Dale Holness said of his daughter after the sentencing Monday. “She accepts responsibility. Certainly, she will pay a price, and we’re just going to be here to help her rebuild her life.”

Prosecutors say Damara Holness used an elaborate scheme, lying on several documents and roping in other people to apply for that money meant to help small businesses stay afloat during the pandemic. They allege she was motivated by greed and say they’re still not sure where all the money went.

Holness said that, while she has no excuse, her finances and life at the time weren’t in the shape that they might have seemed from the outside.

“This is a mistake that I made, not out of greed, but out of desperation as a pregnant woman trying to make a way for herself,” she said outside the courtroom, her young daughter in her arms. “And I just want to forward with my life and continue doing the work I was doing before.”

About the Authors:

Andrew Perez is a South Florida native who joined the Local 10 News team in May 2014.