4 more Houston-area suspects charged in $35M COVID-19 relief fraud scheme

Handcuffs (WDIV)

HOUSTON – Four people from the Houston area have been charged for fraudulently obtaining and laundering millions of dollars in forgivable Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

According to court documents, Hamza Abbas, 29, Khalid Abbas, 55, Abdul Fatani, 55, all of Richmond, Texas; and Syed Ali, 53, of Sugar Land, Texas, conspired with others to submit more than 80 false and fraudulent PPP loan applications by falsifying the number of employees and the average monthly payroll expenses of the applicant businesses.

In total, the suspects received more than $35 million in PPP loan funds and obtained $18 million in PPP loan proceeds.

Court documents also say the suspects laundered a portion of the PPP loan funds by writing checks from companies that received PPP loans to fake employees. The people who received the checks included some of the suspect’s family members, according to court documents.

The fake paychecks were then allegedly cashed at Fascare International Inc. dba Almeda Discount Store – a check-cashing company. The indictment alleges that over 1,100 fake paychecks, totaling more than $3 million in fraudulent PPP loans were cashed at Almeda.

Amir Aqeel, 53, of Houston, Texas; Siddiq Azeemuddin, 42, of Naperville, Illinois; Rifat Bajwa, 53, of Richmond, Texas; Pardeep Basra, 52, of Houston, Texas; Mayer Misak, 41, of Cypress, Texas; Mauricio Navia, 42, of Katy, Texas; and Richard Reuth, 58, of Spring, Texas, were previously indicted for their involvement in the fraudulent loan scheme. Aqeel, Bajwa, Basra, Misak, and Navia are also named defendants in the superseding indictment.

Azeemuddin and Reuth pleaded guilty for their involvement in the scheme on Oct. 8 and 9, according to court documents. Four other people – Abdul Farahshah, 70, Jesus Acosta Perez, 31, and Bijan Rajabi, 68, all of Houston, Texas; and Raheel Malik, 41, of Sugar Land, Texas – have also pleaded guilty for their involvement in the scheme. Malik pleaded guilty to a one-count information charging him with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering on Oct. 8. Farahshah, Perez, and Rajabi each pleaded guilty to a one-count information charging them with conspiracy to commit wire fraud on Nov. 30.

The suspects in the superseding indictment are all charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and wire fraud. Aqeel, Khalid Abbas, Ali, and Fatani are also charged with money laundering. Aqeel is also charged with aggravated identity theft and is accused of submitting PPP loan applications by stealing the identities of others.

The suspects are scheduled to appear in court on Thursday. If convicted, the suspects face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison per count of wire fraud, and 10 years in prison per count of money laundering. If convicted of aggravated identity theft, Aqeel faces a mandatory minimum sentence of two years in addition to the sentence imposed for the other offenses.

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