Seven men in Texas and Illinois have been charged in a scheme to obtain approximately $16 million in small business relief funds amid the coronavirus pandemic, with some of the money being used to purchase a Lamborghini and a Porsche.
Amir Aqeel, Pardeep Basra, Rifat Bajwa, Mayer Misak, Mauricio Navia and Richard Reuth, all of Texas, were charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and wire fraud, according to a Tuesday statement from the Department of Justice. Aqeel is also charged with three counts of money laundering.
Siddiq Azeemuddin, of Illinois, has also been charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud and money laundering in connection to the scheme.
The men are accused of filing at least 80 fraudulent applications to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a federal program designed to provide funds to small businesses hit by the coronavirus pandemic. The men acquired an estimated $16 million, according to the Department of Justice, and spent it on luxury items, including the Porsche and Lamborghini cars.
The men allegedly falsified “the number of employees and the average monthly payroll expenses of the applicant businesses.”
They also allegedly submitted false bank records and false tax forms, according to the charges.
The indictment also alleges that the men wrote checks from companies that received the small business loans to fake employees, including some of the defendants and their relatives. More than 1,100 fake paychecks totaling more than $3 million were cashed at a company owned by Azeemuddin.
Federal officials seized the Lamborghini and Porsche automobiles that were allegedly purchased with the illegally obtained funds.
“Some fraudsters create the most complicated schemes to steal money from the taxpayer. Just imagine how productive they could be if they put their creativity and effort into noble and useful work,” U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick of the Southern District of Texas said in the Tuesday statement. “With the great work of so many partner agencies, we will bring to justice those who steal from the treasury.”
The PPP was created by coronavirus relief legislation passed by lawmakers in March and is aimed at keeping employers open during the pandemic. Under the program, which is guaranteed by the Small Business Association, many of the loans given to businesses are forgivable if the funds are used for payroll, mortgage interest, rent, utilities and other targeted costs.
A Florida man earlier this year was arrested after federal prosecutors said he fraudulently obtained nearly $4 million in PPP loans and used some of the money to buy a Lamborghini sports car.