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NRI man in US sentenced for USD 20 million Covid-19 relief fraud

Pardeep Basra of Houston was sentenced to three years

NRI man in US sentenced for USD 20 million Covid-19 relief fraud
Houston: A 54-year-old Indian-origin man has been sentenced to over three years in prison for his role in obtaining more than USD 20 million under the US government’s economic aid plan following the coronavirus pandemic.

Pardeep Basra of Houston was part of a multimillion-dollar Covid-19 relief fraud ring and had previously pleaded guilty to the fraud. He was sentenced to three years and five months on Monday along with six of his co-conspirators, who got prison sentences of various lengths, the justice department said in a press release on Tuesday.The ring leader, Amir Aqeel, got 15 years in prison for the fraud.

The ring “fraudulently obtained more than USD 20 million in forgivable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans that the Small Business Administration (SBA) guaranteed under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act,” the release said.

“He (Aqil) and his cohorts stole millions from the public fund, using that money to buy houses, a Porsche, even a Lamborghini, all while taking advantage of programs intended to help those struggling during the pandemic,” the release said.

Basra and his co-conspirators submitted more than 75 fraudulent PPP loan applications in 2020, falsifying the number of employees and the average monthly payroll expenses of the applicant businesses. They also submitted fraudulent bank records or fake federal tax forms supporting the PPP loan applications.

Some were paid large kickbacks in exchange for their assistance with the false and fraudulent PPP loan applications, the release said.

The conspirators also laundered some fraudulent proceeds by writing cheques from companies that received PPP loans to fake employees. Over 1,100 counterfeit paychecks for over USD 3 million in fraudulent PPP loan proceeds were cashed.

“While the rest of our country was reeling from the effects of an unprecedented global health crisis, these individuals conspired to fraudulently obtain and launder millions of taxpayer dollars from an emergency fund that was intended to help keep struggling businesses and employees afloat,” Special Agent in Charge Mark Dawson, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Houston, was quoted as saying in the release.

Federal agents also executed 45 seizure warrants in conjunction with the case and seized, among other items, a residence, a Porsche and a Lamborghini purchased with illegally obtained funds.

The four others sentenced for their roles in the loan fraud scheme are Khalid Abbas and Richard Reuth, who received two and a half years in prison. Rifat Bajwa and Siddiq Azeemuddin were sentenced to three years and two years in prison, respectively, the release said.