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Several Indian Americans charged in alleged $53 mn US Covid relief fraud

New York, July 7 (IANS) Fourteen people, mostly of Indian origin, have been charged in the US for allegedly bilking a Covid-era financial program, and numerous financial institutions out of more than $53 million in loan proceeds.

The defendants were arrested last week in Texas, California, and Oklahoma in one of the largest cases investigated by the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC) Fraud Task Force to date, the US Attorney for the Northern District of Texas announced.

“These defendants allegedly conspired to steal tens of millions of dollars from the Paycheck Protection Program — funds which could have helped legitimate businesses pay their bills and keep their employees afloat,” Attorney Leigha Simonton said.

The Paycheck Protection Program provided forgivable loans to small businesses to cover payroll, rent, and other certain business expenses; the program ended in May 2021.

According to a series of indictments unsealed on June 28, several of the charged defendants purportedly operated a group of affiliated recycling companies.

They allegedly submitted at least 29 Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan applications that fraudulently inflated payroll expenses, doctoring bank statements and Internal Revenue Service tax forms to falsely reflect business income.

They then routed PPP loan funds through a series of bank accounts to create a false paper trail of payroll expenses.

At least two of the defendants also allegedly submitted false applications to financial institutions on behalf of their purported recycling companies to fraudulently obtain, in the aggregate, millions of dollars in business loan proceeds.

And one defendant, Bhavesh aka Bobby Patel of Chief Business Development Officer for Sunshine Recycling, allegedly lied to the Federal Deposit Insurance Commission (FDIC) by stating that he did not know several of his other alleged coconspirators.

Some of those charged in the sixteen count-indictment filed last week include Mihir Patel, Chief Financial Officer of Sunshine Recycling for conspiracy to commit bank fraud, bank fraud and aiding and abetting, and conspiracy to commit money laundering; Kinjal Patel, Controller at Sunshine Recycling for bank fraud, bank fraud and aiding and abetting, and conspiracy to commit money laundering; Prateek Desai, owner of West Texas Scrap; Chirag Gandhi, aka Chris Gandhi, President and owner of 5G Metals and Sunshine Recycling, for bank fraud and bank fraud and aiding and abetting; Dharmesh Patel, aka Danny Patel, Co-President and co-owner of Elephant Recycling for conspiracy to commit bank fraud and bank fraud and aiding and abetting; Bhargav Bhatt, aka Brad Bhatt, NTC Industries employee for conspiracy to commit bank fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Those charged in separate indictments include Mrunal Desai, Chintak Desai, Ambreen Khan and Usha Sharma for bank/wire fraud and aiding and abetting.

If convicted, the defendants face up to 30 years in federal prison for each count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, bank fraud and aiding and abetting, bank fraud, and making a false statement to the FDIC, 20 years for wire fraud, and 10 years for conspiracy to commit money laundering.

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