Portland man sentenced to federal prison for stealing Covid relief funds | USAO-OR

PORTLAND, Ore.—A Portland man was sentenced to federal prison today for carrying out a scheme to steal funds intended to help small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Benjamin Tifekchian, 48, was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison and five years of probation. Tifekchian was also ordered to pay more than $910,000 in restitution, including more than $26,000 to the Small Business Administration (SBA).

According to court documents, in May 2019, Tifekchian incorporated Bencho Jewelry Inc. (Bencho) in the state of Oregon and was the sole owner and officer of the company. Bencho has never had any employees and has never generated more than $500 in revenue in a calendar year.

After Congress passed the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act in March 2020 to provide emergency financial assistance to millions of Americans suffering from the economic effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Tifekchian devised and perpetrated a scheme to defraud the SBA. by fraudulently applying for Economic Disaster Disaster Loans (EIDLs) and Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans authorized by the CARES Act in Bencho’s name.

In EIDL applications submitted to the SBA in April and August 2020, Tifekchian falsely claimed that Bencho had generated up to $758,000 in revenue, had been in operation for 20 years, and employed 12 people. The SBA denied both requests. In June 2020, Tifekchian successfully secured over $884,000 in PPP funding after falsely claiming that Bencho employed 78 people and had an average monthly payroll of $353,698. The SBA guaranteed the loan and paid Bank of America, the FDIC-insured loan issuer, more than $26,000 in fees.

Tifekchian used the PPP loan to pay for gambling, vacations, and other personal expenses. Suspecting fraud, Bank of America froze the loan funds, but only after Tifekchian spent more than $68,000.

On July 13, 2021, a federal grand jury in Portland returned a two-count indictment charging Tifekchian with bank fraud and wire fraud. On January 25, 2022, he pleaded guilty to bank fraud.

U.S. Attorney Scott Erik Asphaug of the District of Oregon made the announcement.

This matter was investigated by the FBI, the United States Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), and the SBA Office of the Inspector General. Assistant United States Attorney Ryan W. Bounds is prosecuting the case.

Anyone with information about alleged attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF online complaint at: https://www. justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.

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