A Georgia woman has been sentenced to prison and ordered to repay more than $1 million in fraudulently obtained funds from a COVID-19 small business relief program.
Salmat Deyji, 26, of Stockbridge, Ga., was sentenced to 26 months in prison after pleading guilty to Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud and Money Laundering, said Jill E. Steinberg, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. U.S. District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood also ordered Deyji to pay $1,073,307 in restitution to the government, and to serve three years of supervised release upon completion of her prison term.
There is no parole in the federal system.
“Congress provided substantial funding to assist struggling small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, and unfortunately scam artists found myriad ways to enrich themselves through those funds,” said U.S. Attorney Steinberg. “Salmat Deyji not only helped herself to undeserved assistance, but also profited by conducting fraudulent activity on behalf of others. She’s now being held accountable for this substantial theft.”
The 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act provided more than $650 billion in funding for qualifying small businesses facing financial challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, including grants available through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
In her plea agreement, Deyji admitted to filling out and submitting fraudulent PPP loan applications for herself and other individuals, in the Southern District of Georgia and elsewhere, who otherwise did not meet the qualifications for the program. She assisted in filing these applications using fabricated IRS forms and tax records which she created. Her scheme included soliciting information from U.S. Army service members as well as friends and family who she recruited to receive PPP funding in exchange for kickbacks.
In total, the scheme caused the disbursement of more than $1 million in fraudulent CARES Act grants to more than three dozen applicants. At least six others who participated in the scheme pled guilty to related charges, with sentences ranging from probation to 22 months in prison along with substantial orders of restitution.
“Today’s sentencing should serve as a stark reminder that our agents, and those of our partner law enforcement agencies, are relentless in their pursuit of those who choose to defraud the government,” said Special Agent in Charge Scott Moreland of the Department of the Army Criminal Investigation Division, Major Procurement Fraud Field Office.
“Those who illegally utilize government assistance for their own advantage undermine the efficacy and integrity of programs designed to support those who are in need of government aid,” stated Special Agent in Charge Darrin K. Jones, Department of Defense Office of Inspector General, Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS), Southeast Field Office. “DCIS and our investigative partners are committed to bringing those who exploit these programs for selfish gain to justice.”
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Paycheck Protection Program was enacted by Congress in response to helping businesses who were experiencing economic uncertainty,” said James E. Dorsey, Special Agent in Charge, IRS Criminal Investigation, Atlanta Field Office. “Unfortunately, people like Deyji and her co-conspirators fraudulently applied for and obtained those funds for their personal benefit. IRS-Criminal Investigation and our law enforcement partners will continue pursuing those who defrauded the government and stole from others in need of economic relief.”
“The U.S. Secret Service’s investigative collaboration with our law enforcement and prosecutorial partners again demonstrates our commitment to bringing to justice those who choose to exploit the systems created to help those affected by COVID-19 pandemic,” said Craig Reno, Resident Agent in Charge of the Savannah Resident Office of the U.S. Secret Service. “The results of these cases should serve as a deterrent to fraudsters that you will be held accountable to fullest extent of the law.”
Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form at: https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.
The case was investigated by the Department of the Army Criminal Investigation Division, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigations, and the U.S. Secret Service, and prosecuted for the United States of America by Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew A. Josephson.
This is a press release from the US Department of Justice.