6 Houston-area men charged in scheme that used more than 80 fraudulent loan applications to get $16M in COVID-relief funds, feds say

HOUSTON – Seven people across two states have been charged in connection with a scheme that used more than 80 fraudulent loan applications to get $16 million in the forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, according to federal prosecutors.

Amir Aqeel, 52, and Pardeep Basra, 51, both of Houston; Rifat Bajwa, 51, of Richmond; Mayer Misak, 40, of Cypress; Mauricio Navia, 41, of Katy; and Richard Reuth, 57, of Spring, are expected to make their first court appearances Wednesday before Federal Judge Andrew M. Edison.

Prosecutors said all six suspects have been charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and wire fraud. The indictment also charges Aqeel with three counts of money laundering.

Siddiq Azeemuddin, 41, of Naperville, Illinois, was also named in the Houston indictment. He also faces charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud and money laundering, according to prosecutors. Azeemuddin appeared Tuesday before Federal Judge Heather K. McShain of the Northern District of Illinois.

Prosecutors said all those involved had conspired to submit the fraudulent PPP loan applications by falsifying the number of employees and the average monthly payroll expenses of the applicant businesses. Prosecutors also said they conspired to submit, fraudulent bank records or fake federal tax forms.

Prosecutors said several of the PPP loan applications were submitted on behalf of companies the defendants controlled, while other loan applications were submitted on behalf of entities that third-parties allegedly owned. In exchange, several of the defendants received large kickbacks, according to the prosecutors.

According to a press release, “the indictment further alleges the defendants laundered a portion of the fraudulent proceeds by writing checks from companies that received PPP loans to fake employees. Those that received checks included some of the defendants and their relatives, according to the charges. The fake paychecks were then allegedly cashed at Fascare International Inc. dba Almeda Discount Store – a cash checking company Azeemuddin owned.”

Prosecutors said more than 1,100 fake paychecks, totaling over $3 million, were cashed at Azeemuddin’s business. Federal agents served 45 warrants in conjunction with the case, prosecutors said. A Porsche and a Lamborghini purchased with illegal funds were also seized, according to prosecutors.

When KPRC 2 showed up at the store located at 10150 Almeda-Genoa road, a clerk who said he was a new employee, said he was shocked to hear the news. He called his manager and 30 minutes later, shut down the shop, putting a padlock on the front door.

This is an ongoing investigation. If you have any information, contact the U.S. Department of Homeland Security 1-866-DHS-ICE.

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