Houston Man, Leader of Multimillion-Dollar COVID-19 Relief Fraud Ring, Sentenced to 15 Years in Prison

In a significant development, the mastermind behind a multimillion-dollar COVID-19 relief fraud ring, Amir Aqeel, 54, from Houston, and six of his associates have been sentenced for orchestrating a scheme that fraudulently obtained over $20 million in forgivable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

According to court documents, Aqeel was handed a 15-year prison sentence and ordered to forfeit $5,583,111.48 for leading the conspiracy. He, along with at least 14 other individuals, manipulated 75 PPP loan applications in 2020. The defendants falsified employee numbers, average monthly payroll expenses, and submitted fraudulent bank records and fake federal tax forms to support these applications. Aqeel even paid substantial kickbacks to some of the defendants in exchange for their assistance in the fraudulent loan applications.

The defendants further laundered part of the fraudulent proceeds by issuing fake paychecks from companies that had received PPP loans to non-existent employees. These fake paychecks, totaling more than $3 million, were cashed at Almeda Discount Store (Almeda), a company owned by Siddiq Azeemuddin, one of the co-conspirators.

Federal agents executed 45 seizure warrants in connection with the case, confiscating assets including a residence, a Porsche, and a Lamborghini, all purchased with illegally obtained funds.

Five other individuals involved in the fraud ring were also sentenced. Khalid Abbas, 57, and Rifat Bajwa, 54, both from Richmond, Texas, received sentences of two and a half years and three years in prison, respectively. Azeemuddin, 44, of Naperville, Illinois, was sentenced to two years in prison, while Pardeep Basra, 54, from Houston, received a sentence of three years and five months. Richard Reuth, 60, from Spring, Texas, was sentenced to two and a half years in prison.

In February, Abdul Fatani, 57, from Richmond, Texas, was convicted by a federal jury on charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering. He was sentenced to three years in prison.

The investigation was conducted jointly by the SBA Office of Inspector General (SBA-OIG), Federal Housing Finance Agency Office of Inspector General (FHFA-OIG), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Office of Inspector General (FDIC-OIG), and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA).