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Columbia man pleads guilty to insurance, COVID business relief fraud


A Columbia man pleaded guilty on Thursday to federal charges for scamming insurance companies on car crash claims and fraudulently obtaining federal COVID-19 relief money.

Lawrence Lawhorn made the plea in two separate cases on Thursday. Lawhorn pleaded guilty to wire fraud, mail fraud and identity theft in the car crash cases and wire fraud in a CARES Act-related case.

The 101-page plea agreement lays out nine crashes from 2017 to 2019 that prosecutors say Lawhorn and others were a part of in order to get insurance payouts. The agreement said crash investigators cast doubt on the circumstances of many of the crashes, where first responders would find people on the scene unconscious or complaining of injuries. Lawhorn would work with the others to get insurance payouts based on the crash. Some of the claims ran into six-figure settlements, which FBI agents said Lawhorn helped orchestrate based on text messages and emails agents obtained.

Lawhorn also admitted to obtaining money through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan, a 2020 program in the CARES Act meant for small businesses suffering losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The plea agreement said Lawhorn worked with others to send in applications to the Small Business Administration for $10,000 loans supporting nonexistent businesses. At least two applications resulted in $10,000 deposits from the EIDL program, according to the plea agreement.

Lawhorn's attorney, Greg Wittner, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Investigators found some of the evidence after seizing Lawhorn's phone and laptop after he was shot in August 2020. Lawhorn has been incarcerated since his arrest following the shooting outside the Level Up arcade and bowling alley. Law enforcement has also long suspected Lawhorn in numerous homicides in Boone County, but prosecutors have never charged him.

Several of Lawhorn's co-defendants have pleaded guilty for their parts in the various schemes. Lawhorn's plea agreement did not list an agreed-upon sentence. The wire and mail fraud charges have a 20-year maximum sentence, while the identity theft charge carries a two-year prison sentence.

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Lucas Geisler

Lucas Geisler anchors the 5 p.m. show for ABC 17 News and reports on the latest news around mid-Missouri at 9 and 10 p.m.


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