COVID-19: Feds nab man fleeing Sussex accused of pocketing $5.6m pandemic small business loan

A Sussex County man who raised $5.6million in federal COVID-19 pandemic loans he was not eligible for was about to board a flight to Pakistan when federal agents pulled him over arrested, authorities said.

Azhar Sarwar Rana, 30, from Newton, took the money – intended to keep struggling small businesses afloat during the pandemic – and invested millions in the stock market, made a payment to a luxury car dealership and sent hundreds of thousands of dollars to accounts in Pakistan, US Attorney Craig Carpenito said.

Rana applied for a stimulus loan under the federal Paycheck Protection Program for a company that allegedly invested in real estate development, Carpenito said.

The app included false payroll and tax information and included “inconsistent lists of company employee counts,” the U.S. attorney said.

New Jersey Department of Labor records showed Rana’s company, incorporated in his name, paid no wages in 2019, he said.

The minimum wages he would have paid in 2020 “were primarily for people whose submitted social security numbers did not match their submitted names,” Carpenito said.

“Based on Rana’s alleged misrepresentations, the lender approved Rana’s PPP loan application and provided Azhar Sarwar Rana LLC with approximately $5.6 million in federal COVID-19 emergency relief funds earmarked for struggling small businesses,” he said.

Rana is among nearly 60 people charged by the US Justice Department since May with trying to steal more than $175 million from the taxpayer-funded PPP, which was designed to keep struggling small businesses afloat. during the pandemic.

Several hundred more investigations — involving nearly 500 suspects and hundreds of millions in loans — were continuing, federal authorities said.

In late March, Congress created the $670 billion rescue fund through the CARES Act, which was “designed to provide emergency financial assistance to millions of Americans who are suffering the economic effects resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Carpenito said.

The program distributed about $525 billion in repayable loans to more than five million businesses, saving about 50 million jobs during one of the worst national crises in recent history.

It turns out that tens of thousands of those beneficiaries were ineligible, federal authorities said.

Carpenito said they include Rana, who was detained by a U.S. District Court judge by teleconference on Monday.

Carpenito credited special agents from the FBI, IRS – Criminal Investigation, Social Security Administration, and Homeland Security Investigations from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security with the investigation that led to charges against Rana of fraud. banking and money laundering.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Macurdy of the Carpenito Economic Crimes Unit in Newark is handling the case for the government.

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