A New Jersey man was sentenced to more than five years in prison on Tuesday for fraudulently taking $5.6 million in pandemic small business relief funds through the government’s Paycheck Protection Program. 

“A Sussex County, New Jersey, man was sentenced today to 64 months in prison for fraudulently obtaining a federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan of over $5 million, Acting U.S. Attorney Rachael A. Honig announced,” according to the Department of Justice. 

The sentences for money laundering and bank fraud were passed down by Judge Esther Salas at federal court in Newark to 31-year-old Azhar Sarwar Rana, who pleaded guilty to the charges. 

Rana took money from the PPP, a program designed to aid small businesses in response to the pandemic, by applying for a loan for his purported real estate company “Azhar Sarwar Rana LLC.”

The DOJ said, “New Jersey Department of Labor records showed that Azhar Sarwar Rana LLC paid no wages in 2019, and the minimal wages it purportedly paid in 2020 were mostly to individuals whose submitted Social Security numbers did not correspond to their submitted names.” 

Rana used the $5.6 million loan he received through PPP for many personal expenses, including payments to a luxury car dealership, investing millions in the stock market, and sending hundreds of thousands of dollars overseas to Pakistan. 

He was arrested nearly a year ago as he attempted to fly to Pakistan. Special agents with the FBI, IRS, Homeland Security, and the Social Security Administration were credited with aiding in the investigation.

According to the DOJ, the Paycheck Protection Program allowed, “qualifying small businesses and other organizations to receive loans with a maturity of two years and an interest rate of 1 percent. Businesses must use PPP loan proceeds for payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent and utilities.”

Last week another New Jersey man was also sentenced for PPP fraud and “depositing a stolen and altered U.S. Treasury check.” Bernard Lopez, 40, was sentenced to 30 months in prison by Judge Peter G. Sheridan for bank fraud and stealing government funds. 

“Lopez devised a scheme to commit bank fraud through which a stolen and altered U.S. Treasury check was deposited into a corporate bank account Lopez created in the name of Pezlo Management LLC,” the DOJ noted. “The check was altered to be made payable to Pezlo in the amount of $211,886 and was then deposited into Pezlo’s corporate bank account. Lopez later withdrew or transferred the stolen proceeds from Pezlo’s bank account before the bank could detect the fraud.”

On top of that, Lopez also received about $481,502 in emergency relief funds from the government for a purported business he owned. Some of the money was then used for personal expenses. He will need to provide restitution for $137,000 and forfeiture of $481,502.

Fraud pertaining to pandemic relief funds seems to be somewhat widespread, as an Oregon dentist on Wednesday was charged with stealing almost $8 million in relief funds. 

“Salwan Adjaj, 43, a former dentist residing in West Linn, Oregon, has been charged with aggravated identity theft and wire fraud,” according to the Attorney’s Office for the District of Oregon. “According to court documents, in and around March 2021, Adjaj allegedly submitted dozens of fraudulent loan applications to the Small Business Administration (SBA) in an attempt to obtain funds through the Economic Impact Disaster Loan (EIDL) program.”

Adjaj allegedly used “fictitious business entities” to perpetrate the fraud and obtain nearly $8 million in relief funds. 

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