Winchester man convicted of COVID relief fraud

BOSTON — A Winchester man was convicted by a federal jury yesterday in connection with filing fraudulent loan applications seeking more than $13 million in forgivable loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) for COVID-19 relief through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Elijah Majak Buoi was convicted following a three-day trial of four counts of wire fraud and one count of making a false statement to a financial institution. U.S. District Court Chief Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV scheduled sentencing for June 16, 2022. Buoi was arrested and charged by criminal complaint in June 2020 and subsequently indicted by a federal grand jury in July 2020.

Buoi submitted six fraudulent PPP loan applications on behalf of his company Sosuda Tech, LLC (Sosuda) to four different SBA-approved lenders. In each loan application, Buoi misrepresented the number of employees and payroll expenses. Buoi also submitted fraudulent IRS tax forms in support of his applications. The evidence at trial showed that Sosuda was a startup company with no U.S.-based payroll and no U.S.-based employees. As a result of his scheme, Buoi obtained a $2 million PPP loan. The government recovered approximately $1.97 million of the loan funds.

The CARES Act is a federal law enacted on March 29, 2020, designed to provide emergency financial assistance to the millions of Americans who are suffering the economic effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. One source of relief provided by the CARES Act was the authorization of up to $349 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses for job retention and certain other expenses, through the PPP. In April 2020, Congress authorized over $300 billion in additional PPP funding.

The PPP allows qualifying small-businesses and other organizations to receive loans with a maturity of two years and an interest rate of 1%. PPP loan proceeds must be used by businesses on payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent and utilities. The PPP allows the interest and principal on the PPP loan to be forgiven if businesses spend the proceeds on these expenses within a set time period and use at least a certain percentage of the loan towards payroll expenses.

The charge of wire fraud provides for a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, up to three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense. The charge of making a false statement to a financial institution provides for a sentence of up to 30 years in prison, up to three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

United States Attorney Rachael S. Rollins; Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; Joleen D. Simpson, Special Agent in Charge of the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation in Boston; Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Division; Stephen Donnelly, Acting Special Agent-in-Charge, Eastern Region, Office of Inspector General for the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection; Amaleka McCall-Brathwaite, Special Agent in Charge of the Small Business Association, Office of Inspector General, Eastern Regional Office; and Patricia Tarasca, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Office of Inspector General, New York Region, made the announcement today. Assistant U.S. Attorney Mackenzie A. Queenin of Rollins’ Securities, Financial, and Cyber Fraud Unit, and Trial Attorney Della Sentilles of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section are prosecuting the case.

On May 17, 2021, the Attorney General established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force to marshal the resources of the Department of Justice in partnership with agencies across government to enhance efforts to combat and prevent pandemic-related fraud. The Task Force bolsters efforts to investigate and prosecute the most culpable domestic and international criminal actors and assists agencies tasked with administering relief programs to prevent fraud by, among other methods, augmenting and incorporating existing coordination mechanisms, identifying resources and techniques to uncover fraudulent actors and their schemes, and sharing and harnessing information and insights gained from prior enforcement efforts.

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