Florida man who bought 12,000 square-foot mansion, luxury cars heads to prison for COVID-19 fraud

A Seminole County man who purchased a 12,579 square-foot mansion along with luxury cars was sentenced to federal prison after stealing over $7 million through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), the Department of Justice (DOJ) said. 

Don V. Cisternino, 47, of Chuluota, was sentenced to eight years and six months in federal prison for wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and illegal monetary transaction, the DOJ announced Thursday. Cisternino pleaded guilty on September 20, 2022, after being extradited from Croatia. 

According to court documents, Cisternino fraudulently secured more than $7.2 million in emergency funds through a PPP loan. He allegedly claimed that his business — MagnifiCo, had 441 employees and monthly payroll expenses in 2019 of more than $2.8 million. The DOJ found that Cisternino was the only employee of the company. 

He also used the social security numbers of actual people who said they did not authorize Cisternino to use their identities, along with fake W-2 forms. 

He then used the funds to purchase a Maserati and a Mercedes-Benz along with a 12-acre estate amassing 12,579 square feet in Seminole County.

Once Cisternino learned that he was under investigation for PPP fraud, he fled to Switzerland in January 2021, the DOJ said. Cisternino then tried to enter Croatia where he was arrested on April 11, 2021.

Cisternino was ordered to forfeit $1,071,923.98 seized from five different bank accounts, which are funds traceable to the proceeds of the crime. He also has to forfeit $7.21 million, which represents the total proceeds obtained by Cisternino from the wire fraud scheme. 

The court also ordered Cisternino to pay restitution to the U.S. Small Business Administration in the amount of $7,445,855.89.