Head of COVID-19 Relief Fraud Ring and Co-Conspirators Sentenced for $20 Million PPP Loan Fraud

Head of COVID-19 Relief Fraud Ring and Co-Conspirators Sentenced for $20 Million PPP Loan Fraud

The ringleader of a multimillion-dollar COVID-19 relief fraud operation and six co-conspirators have been sentenced for their roles in fraudulently acquiring over $20 million in forgivable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) under the CARES Act.

Amir Aqeel, 54, of Houston, who led the conspiracy, has been sentenced to 15 years in prison and ordered to forfeit $5,583,111.48. He was convicted of conspiring with at least 14 others to submit 75 fraudulent PPP loan applications in 2020.

These applications contained falsified information regarding the number of employees and monthly payroll expenses of the applicant businesses, supported by fraudulent bank records and fake federal tax forms.

Aqeel paid substantial kickbacks to some co-conspirators in exchange for their assistance in filing these fraudulent loan applications.

The COVID-19 pandemic provided an opportunity for these individuals to exploit the situation and fraudulently obtain millions in federal funds intended to support businesses during a time of crisis.

The sentences reflect the Department of Justice’s commitment to holding those who commit fraud against the government accountable for their actions.

The defendants also engaged in money laundering by issuing checks from companies that had received PPP loans to fictitious employees. These fraudulent paychecks, totaling over $3 million in PPP loan proceeds, were cashed at Almeda Discount Store, a business owned by Siddiq Azeemuddin.

Federal agents executed 45 seizure warrants as part of the investigation, leading to the seizure of assets including a residence, a Porsche, and a Lamborghini purchased with illegally obtained funds.

This case underscores the commitment of law enforcement agencies to identify and prosecute individuals engaged in pandemic-related benefit fraud.

The U.S. Attorney’s office, the SBA Office of Inspector General, the Federal Housing Finance Agency Office of Inspector General, Homeland Security Investigations, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Office of Inspector General, and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration worked collaboratively to uncover and address this scheme.

Five other individuals previously pleaded guilty and were sentenced for their roles in the loan fraud scheme. Khalid Abbas and Rifat Bajwa, both of Richmond, Texas, received sentences of two and a half years and three years in prison, respectively.

Azeemuddin, of Naperville, Illinois, was sentenced to two years in prison. Pardeep Basra of Houston received a sentence of three years and five months, and Richard Reuth of Spring, Texas, was sentenced to two and a half years.

Abdul Fatani, of Richmond, Texas, who was convicted in February of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering, received a three-year prison sentence.

The investigation involved multiple agencies, including the SBA Office of Inspector General, the Federal Housing Finance Agency Office of Inspector General, Homeland Security Investigations, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Office of Inspector General, and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

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