Houston Group Sentenced in $20 Million COVID-19 Relief Fraud, Forced to Pay Restitution

Houston Group Sentenced in $20 Million COVID-19 Relief Fraud, Forced to Pay RestitutionSource: Unsplash/ Carles Rabada
Alyssa Ford
Published on February 12, 2024

Six men from the Houston area have found themselves on the wrong side of the law, having been sentenced for their involvement in a sizable COVID-19 relief fraud that scammed the government out of more than $20 million worth of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. The schemes exploited financial aid intended to support businesses struggling during the pandemic, according to a U.S Department of Justice report.

Hamza Abbas, 31, along with Ammas Uddin and Arham Uddin, both 31 and 27 respectively, were among the Richmond locals involved. Abbas received a 44-month sentence, the Uddin brothers 18 months each. Syed Ali, 55, from Sugar Land, was sentenced to 24 months. The list continues with Muhammad Anis, 55, and Jesus Acosta Perez, 33, hailing from Houston, who got 21 and 12 months plus a day, respectively. These individuals, previously pleading guilty, also face an order to pay back varying amounts in restitution.

The court documents reveal a painstaking scheme where conspirators, among other fraudulent activities, supplied information about their businesses to submit falsified PPP loan applications. They cooked the books on the number of employees and inflated monthly payroll numbers, supporting their scam with fabricated bank records and counterfeit federal tax forms.

Abbas played a critical role by recruiting others into the conspiracy and producing fake bank records to bolster the sham loan applications in return for kickbacks. The unlawful proceeds were cleverly laundered by distributing checks from the fraudulent companies to non-existent employees. These checks were then cashed at cash checking businesses, including one owned by an accomplice in their scheme.

Earlier, in January, three other participants had been sentenced following guilty pleas for their involvement with the operation. According to the report, the trio comprised of Raheel Malik, 43, of Sugar Land, Nishant Patel, 41, of Houston, and Harjeet Sing, 50, of Katy, received varying sentences with Sing being handed down five years of probation. Moreover, back in October 2023, seven more had faced the consequences of their actions, including Amir Aqeel, 54, of Houston, identified as the ringleader and given a 15-year sentence.

The investigation into this sprawling fraud case was conducted with a combined effort by several agencies, including the SBA - Office of Inspector General, Federal Housing Finance Agency – OIG Central Region, Homeland Security Investigations, among others. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys along with Trial Attorneys from the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section which has been leading the charge against PPP fraud since the CARES Act inception, prosecuting over 200 defendants and recovering more than $78 million in illegal PPP funds. The Justice Department continues to urge the public to report any COVID-19 related fraud through the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline or the associated Web Complaint Form.