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Indian-American dentist pleads guilty to using $500k Covid relief money for personal expenses

New York, Aug 29 (IANS) A 46-year-old Indian-origin doctor of dental surgery in California has pleaded guilty to stealing $500,000 Covid-19 relief money and using it for personal expenditures, such as investments.

Ranjan Rajbanshi, who ran a dental practice in Bakersfield and Santa Barbara, received over $850,000 in Covid relief money from the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) from April 2020 through February 2022.

He represented to the government that he would only use the relief money for specified business purposes such as facility costs, payroll, and protective equipment for him and his staff, a release by US attorney’s office for Eastern District of California stated last week.

Rajbanshi subsequently used $500,000 of the relief money for improper personal expenditures such as investments.

He has agreed to pay that money back to the government before his sentencing. He is scheduled to be sentenced by US District Judge Ana de Alba on December 4, and faces a maximum statutory penalty of 10 years in prison and fine of $250,000.

The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.

Last month, around 14 people, including several Indian-origin business owners and employees, were charged in a $53 million fraud scheme involving a Covid-19 pandemic relief program in Texas.

The case was considered the largest investigated by the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC) Fraud Task Force thus far.

Set up on May 17, 2021, the task force bolsters efforts to investigate and prosecute the most culpable domestic and international criminal actors and assists agencies tasked with administering relief programs to prevent fraud.

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