A Sussex County man who collected $5.6 million in federal COVID-19 pandemic loans that he wasn't entitled to was about to board a flight to Pakistan when federal agents arrested him, authorities said.
Azhar Sarwar Rana, 30, of Newton, took the money -- designed 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, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito said.
Rana submitted an application for a stimulus loan under the federal Paycheck Protection Program for a company that purportedly invested in real estate development, Carpenito said.
The application included bogus payroll and tax information and included “internally inconsistent listings of the number of company employees.,” the U.S. attorney said.
New Jersey Department of Labor records showed that Rana’s company, incorporated in his name, paid no wages in 2019, he said.
The minimal wages it purportedly paid in 2020 “were mostly to individuals whose submitted Social Security numbers did not correspond to 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 an approximately $5.6 million in federal COVID-19 emergency relief funds meant for distressed small businesses,” he said.
Rana is among nearly 60 people charged by the U.S. 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.
Congress in late March established 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 an estimated $525 billion in forgivable loans to more than five million companies, saving an estimated 50 million jobs during one of the worst national crises in recent history.
Tens of thousands of those recipients, it turns out, weren’t eligible, federal authorities said.
Carpenito said they include Rana, who was ordered detained Monday by a U.S. District Court judge via teleconference.
Carpenito credited special agents of the FBI, IRS – Criminal Investigation, the Social Security Administration and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Investigations with the investigation leading to charges against Rana of bank fraud and money laundering.
Handling the case for the government is Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Macurdy of Carpenito’s Economic Crimes Unit in Newark.
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