Texas man faces COVID-19 fraud charges

Joshua Thomas fv faces criminal complaints for allegedly lying to a financial institution, wire and bank fraud, and unlawful monetary transactions 

Image of man in US court
Argires allegedly funnelled relief funding intended for small businesses into cryptocurrency investments and for personal use

A Texas man was charged by the US Attorney for the Southern District of Texas yesterday. Rumours suggest that he has fraudulently filed loan applications for $1.1 million through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) under claims that he needed relief funding due to the coronavirus pandemic; however, the funds were instead used to buy cryptocurrency.

A news release from the Department of Justice on its website reveals that 29-year-old Joshua Thomas Argires from Houston is currently facing charges for making false statements to a financial institution, wire fraud, bank fraud and engaging in unlawful monetary transactions. He was arrested on Monday, and has already made an initial appearance before US Magistrate, Judge Peter Bray.

The Small Business Administration (SBA) awards loans to provide COVID-19 relief through PPP under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES).

The press release reveals that Argires submitted two fraudulent PPP loan applications to federally insured banks. Argires submitted one of these applications on behalf of an entity named Texas Barbecue, while the other was submitted for a company called Houston Landscaping.

Argires claimed that both of these companies had many employees and subsequently, hundreds of thousands of dollars in payroll expenses.

The complaint alleges that neither of the two companies have employees or pay wages that are consistent with the amounts claimed within the PPP loan applications. Furthermore, the complaint asserts that while both of these loans were given, neither was used for payroll or other expenses, as authorised.

Instead, the funds for Texas Barbecue were funnelled into cryptocurrency holdings, while the funds for Houston Landscaping remained in a bank account and was slowly depleted through ATM withdrawals.

The CARES Act was enacted on March 29 of this year to provide immediate financial assistance to Americans who are struggling as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The Act is authorised to provide up to $349 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses for job retention and other select expenses through the PPP. In April, Congress allowed an additional $300 billion in PPP funding.

The PPP gives small business and other organisations loans with a maturity of two years and an interest rate of one percent, provided that they meet certain criteria. Businesses are obligated to use proceeds from the PPP loan for payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent and utilities.

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