Man Sentenced Along With 6 Others For Role In $20 Mln Covid Relief Fraud
NEW YORK, NY (IANS) – A 54-year-old Indian-origin man and six other co-conspirators have been sentenced to prison for their role in a multimillion-dollar Covid-19 relief fraud and misusing public funds to buy houses and expensive cars like Lamborghini and Porsche during pandemic.
Pardeep Basra was sentenced to three years and five months in prison after he pled guilty to his role in “one of the largest” Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) fraud ring led by Amir Aqeel.
Aqeel, 54, received the maximum sentence of 15 years in prison for fraudulently obtaining more than $20 million in forgivable PPP loans that the Small Business Administration guaranteed under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
He was ordered to forfeit $5,583,111.48 for leading the conspiracy, and for conspiring with at least 14 other individuals to submit 75 fraudulent PPP loan applications in 2020.
In the applications, Basra, Aqeel and other defendants falsified the number of employees and the average monthly payroll expenses of the applicant businesses and submitted fraudulent bank records and fake federal tax forms in support of the PPP loan applications.
Aqeel paid Basra and others large kickbacks in exchange for their assistance with the false and fraudulent PPP loan applications.
US Attorney Alamdar S Hamdani for the Southern District of Texas said Aqeel, Basra and others stole millions from the public fund, and used that money to buy houses, a Porsche, even a Lamborghini, all while taking advantage of programs intended to help those struggling during the pandemic.
Federal agents executed 45 seizure warrants in conjunction with the case, which according to the Justice Department is one of the largest PPP fraud cases prosecuted by it.
The other defendants include Khalid Abbas and Richard Reuth, who were sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison, and Siddiq Azeemuddin and Rifat Bajwa, who will serve two and three years in prison, respectively.
In February, a federal jury convicted Abdul Fatani of one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, one count of wire fraud, and one count of money laundering. He was sentenced to three years in prison.
The defendants also laundered a portion of the fraudulent proceeds by writing checks from companies that received PPP loans to fake employees, according to a Department of Justice release.
The defendants cashed these fake paychecks at Fascare International Inc, dba Almeda Discount Store (Almeda) — a company that Azeemuddin owned. In total, the defendants cashed more than 1,100 fake paychecks for more than three million dollars in fraudulent PPP loan proceeds at Almeda.
“During a time of unprecedented national peril, these defendants took advantage of a pandemic and stole millions of dollars in federal funds intended to help businesses keep their employees paid and their doors open,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicole M Argentieri of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.
“The sentences demonstrate that the Department and law enforcement have and will continue to hold individuals accountable for committing fraud on the government,” Argentieri said.