The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) stated in a press release on December 15 that 29-year-old Hamza Abbas of Richmond, 55-year-old Khalid Abbas of Richmond, 55-year-old Abdul Fatani of Richmond, and 53-year-old Syed Ali of Sugar Land could be sentenced to up to 20 years on each count of wire fraud.
The indictments against them are the most recent in an apparent scheme that prosecutors say involved 15 defendants from Texas and Illinois, all of whom are accused of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
The DOJ stated that Khalid Abbas, Fatani, Ali, and another defendant, Houston resident Amir Aqeel, 53, have been charged with money laundering in the superseding indictment. The money laundering counts carry potential sentences of up to 10 years.
Last year, a grand jury also indicted Aqeel on a charge of aggravated identity theft. The government accuses Aqeel of using stolen identities to apply for the PPP loans.
According to the DOJ, several of the accused have already pleaded guilty for their involvement, including Siddiq Azeemuddin, 42, of Naperville, Illinois, Richard Reuth, 58, of Spring, and Raheel Malik, 41, of Sugar Land, all of whom entered their pleas in October. Houston residents Abdul Farahshah, 70, Jesus Perez, 31, and Bijan Rajabi, 68, pleaded guilty in late November.
Rifat Bajwa, 53, of Richmond, Pardeep Basra, 52, of Houston, Mayer Misak, 41, of Cypress, and Mauricio Navia, 42, of Katy were also indicted last year on charges of participating in the conspiracy and committing wire fraud.
The DOJ alleges that the defendants attempted to secure $35 million in fraudulent loans, and successfully stole $18 million. Prosecutors say the accused cashed more than 1,100 checks worth over $3 million at a business called Almeda Discount Store to launder part of the money they allegedly swindled from the PPP.
Prosecutors also allege that they lied about the number of employees and the monthly payroll expenses of the businesses on the applications.
The forgivable PPP loans, which ended on May 31 of this year, were part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which was passed in March 2020 during the first weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The purpose of the CARES Act was to assist businesses and individuals as a flood of capacity restrictions, lockdowns, and other governmental measures were instituted to prevent the spread of the virus. An unintended consequence of the PPP was its susceptibility to fraud, which the DOJ encourages the public to report.
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Hayden Sparks is a senior reporter for The Texan and a lifelong resident of the Lone Star State. He has coached competitive speech and debate and has been involved in politics since a young age. One of Hayden's favorite quotes is by Sam Houston: "Texas has yet to learn submission to any oppression, come from what source it may."