Federal government seizes millions of PPP funds from international ministry
A so-called Florida-based international ministry did not appear to be doing anything religious and was able to fraudulently obtain millions from the Paycheck Protection Program, according to federal officials.
U.S. Secret Service seized more than $ 7.5 million from accounts at Bank of America and an additional $ 868,000 from International Department ASLAN’s First American Trust, according to a civil forfeiture complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Orlando, Florida.
When officers arrived at the address listed for the group in Orlando, Florida, no one answered and the door was locked, according to the complaint filed by that city’s US attorney’s office.
And the group’s website was taken down.
“The website contained generic business information that was allegedly pulled from other websites and generated as their own information,” said the complaint, which was filed on Monday. “Links on this website that allowed a user to donate or search for employment were inactive.”
The lawsuit asks a judge to approve the confiscation of the money seized from the federal government “on the grounds that the funds are the proceeds of bank fraud offenses.”
The case is the latest in a series of crackdowns against massive fraud in the PPP program, which has led to more than 80 arrests linked to at least $ 240 million in fraud. The Secret Service alone has some 700 ongoing PPP investigations.
Although the investigation is ongoing and no arrests have been made, the court record details how easy it was for the group to secure a PPP loan.
The investigation focuses on the family who appear to be running the organization.
A 2018 application for ASLAN International to do business in Florida listed a man as president and chairman, his son as vice chairman and director, and his daughter as secretary and director.
According to the complaint, First Home Bank informed ASLAN International that it was eligible for $ 8.4 million in PPP. His application, in which he claimed to have 486 employees and nonprofit status, said the money would be used for payroll, rent, mortgage and utility payments. IRS records show he reported $ 51.8 million in revenue in 2019.
After the loan was approved, the money was transferred through two Wells Fargo accounts to which the son and father were the signatories. The funds were then transferred through three Bank of America accounts to which the girl was the sole signer, according to the complaint.
Secret Service agents discovered that $ 868,250 of the funds were sent through a Royal Bank of Canada account in the name of another woman with the same last name as the three family members, then to an account First American Trust Bank held on behalf of First American Title Insurance Company. The money was used as a deposit on a $ 3.7 million house in Orlando on behalf of the second wife, according to the complaint.
In September, Florida Highway Patrol officers stopped a vehicle for speeding on I-75.
The four family members were inside the car, according to the complaint. Authorities said they found external hard drives, a document shredder, several credit and gift cards, laptops, and a handwritten note stating that the Department of Homeland Security had frozen their bank account in the car. Among the electronic objects seized were a government research manual titled “Tracing Money Flows Through Financial Institutions” and news articles on SBA loan fraud investigations.
CNBC has contacted the Secret Service for comment.
The CARES Act authorized up to $ 349 billion in Small Business Administration loans through the Paycheck Protection Program.