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Casino chips (photo via Chris Liverani on Unsplash)

A McLean resident has pleaded guilty to spending federal COVID-19 relief funds intended for his home business on personal expenses, including gambling and real estate payments.

Mehdi Pazouki, 65, pleaded guilty in federal court on Friday (Feb. 23) to defrauding the Small Business Administration of approximately $455,000 in loans created to help businesses survive during the pandemic, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Eastern District of Virginia.

The office says Pazouki applied for funds from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program between August 2020 and August 2021 that he claimed would be spent on Systems Integration Services Inc., the IT consulting company he ran out of his McLean home.

“He actually intended to, and did, use [the money] to fund his gambling at area casinos, pay down personal debt, and purchase real estate,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a news release.

More from the Department of Justice:

Within days of receiving his first EIDL disbursement, Pazouki spent over $27,000 in EIDL money at Hollywood Casino in Charles Town, West Virginia. Pazouki also used the PPP and EIDL money for down payments on two different real estate properties, to pay off his personal credit card debt, and to fund his personal investment account. Pazouki also falsely represented to the SBA in loan forgiveness applications that the PPP money had been used for legitimate business expenses, which resulted in the complete discharge of the loans.

Pazouki could face up to 20 years in prison when he’s sentenced on May 24, though the press release notes that “actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties.”

Attorney General Merrick Garland announced last August that the Justice Department had recovered over $1.4 billion in COVID-19 relief funds that were allegedly obtained through fraud by over 3,000 defendants.

The PPP and EIDL programs were both created by the CARES Act in 2020 to assist small business owners during the lockdowns and stay-at-home orders implemented early in the pandemic. Up to $659 billion was available for PPP loans, and $224 billion in EIDL grants and loans were approved through February 2021, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, which found that at least 3,000 loans totaling about $156 million went to ineligible applicants.

The PPP program ended on May 31, 2021, while the Small Business Administration shut down its application portal for EIDL funds in May 2022.

Photo via Chris Liverani on Unsplash

U.S. Attorney’s Office in Alexandria (via Google Maps)

A 58-year-old tax preparer from Mount Vernon was sentenced to 18 months in prison last week for filing fake tax returns for his “unsuspecting” clients, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Lawrence Appiah-Osei pleaded guilty in June to operating the scheme from 2017 to 2020 from his Mount Vernon home, defrauding the U.S. government of more than $1.4 million, according to a release published Friday (Nov. 3) by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Appiah-Osei started his tax preparation business, New Look Enterprise, in 2016, and the following year “executed a scheme to fraudulently inflate the tax refunds of his clients,” the release said.

“Appiah-Osei falsely claimed that his clients operated businesses that lost thousands of dollars each year,” prosecutors said in the release. “These fraudulent losses drove down the clients’ taxable income and increased the clients’ tax refunds.”

The Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation division estimated the tax loss to be nearly $1.5 million, according to court records.

Image via Google Maps

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Albert V. Bryan U.S. Courthouse in Alexandria (via Google Maps)

A 32-year-old man from Groveton pleaded guilty on Thursday (Nov. 2) to defrauding the government of more than $1.4 million in fraudulent pandemic-related Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans and unemployment benefits.

George Mensah, Jr., 32, admitted in federal court to wire and mail fraud by collecting fees with two unnamed conspirators through CashApp, Zelle and bank transfers, according to court records. The scheme ran from Oct. 2020 to Sept. 2021, during which time Mensah admitted to preparing dozens of fake PPP loans and unemployment insurance claims under the CARES Act.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia:

Mensah admitted that he and his coconspirators prepared and submitted over 47 applications for PPP loans for fake businesses. At least 21 of these applications were funded by lenders, which caused an actual loss of at least $583,172. In addition, Mensah admitted that he and his co-conspirators obtained the personally identifiable information of others, including identity theft victims, in order to make claims for pandemic unemployment benefits in Virginia and elsewhere. Mensah admitted that he and his co-conspirators obtained at least $658,952 in fraudulently obtained unemployment insurance and pandemic benefits.

Mensah admitted to committing the schemes from three locations — an apartment in Springfield, an apartment in Tysons and from his parents’ home in Groveton.

“The defendant and his coconspirators created false tax returns, including Schedule C forms, and fake bank statements to accompany the fraudulent PPP loan applications,” according to court records.

Mensah admitted to collected fees through CashApp accounts and bank transfers, according to court records. Additionally, he admitted to receiving at least 20 Way2Go prepaid debit cards from the Virginia Employment Commission.

The maximum penalty for the offense is 30 years in prison, a $1 million fine, or twice the gross gain or loss, full restitution, forfeiture of assets and a maximum supervised release term of five years, according to court records. Mensah also agreed to pay the government back $1.5 million.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kimberly Shartar and Kathleen Robeson and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Ezra Spiro.

Mensah will be sentenced on Feb. 14.

Image via Google Maps. This story was previously published by FFXnow’s sister site ALXnow.

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A construction worker on a house building frame (via Josh Olalde on Unsplash)

(Updated at 5:10 p.m.) A 57-year-old contractor from Centreville could face up to two decades in jail for using his custom home building company to defraud McLean homeowners.

Pedro Felipe Valdes Sanchez pleaded guilty yesterday to defrauding “several couples” who hired his company to build or remodel their houses in and around McLean, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia announced.

Unfolding from at least May 2017 through April 2018, the scheme saw Valdes take money from customers who believed he would use it to perform contracted work on their properties, according to the Department of Justice:

In the end, Valdes performed minimal work on these customers’ homes, sometimes only demolishing the existing residence on the customers’ property. Valdes also convinced one customer to lend him money by misrepresenting his company’s financial situation. He sometimes used client funds for personal expenses and routinely used funds from one client to fund another client’s projects.

Valdes targeted three couples, according to court documents, the DOJ told FFXnow.

Valdes’s plea was accepted by U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema and announced by U.S. Attorney Jessica D. Aber and FBI Washington Field Office Special Agent in Charge Wayne Jacobs.

Valdes could be given a prison sentence of up to 20 years.

“Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties,” the DOJ said in its news release.

A sentencing hearing has been scheduled for Feb. 14, 2023.

Photo via Josh Olalde on Unsplash

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A model house with a magnifying glass and piggy bank in the background (via Photo by Tierra Mallorca/Unsplash)

A couple in Merrifield have been sentenced to prison for using the wife’s real estate job to steal people’s identities.

Caprice Foster, 51, and Marcus Foster, 33, took personal identifying information from at least nine people and used it to “buy a luxury vehicle, lease high-end residences, and obtain loans and credit,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia said Friday (Oct. 14).

The information was primarily obtained through Caprice Foster’s work as a real estate agent and timeshare salesperson, per the news release:

To carry out their fraud scheme, the Fosters created numerous false identification documents in other people’s names, including social security cards and driver’s licenses, and they also fabricated tax and employment documents in their victims’ names. The Fosters opened fraudulent bank accounts using stolen identities and deposited stolen and altered checks into these accounts. The Fosters also incorporated a business that they used in furtherance of the fraud. Mr. Foster even impersonated victims in state court eviction proceedings to prolong the Fosters’ stay in residences they fraudulently leased.

Caprice Foster was sentenced to 80 months in prison, while Marcus has been sentenced to 58 months.

According to the Department of Justice, Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis joined prosecutors at the sentencing announcement, along with officials from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Photo via Tierra Mallorca/Unsplash

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Morning Notes

An empty bench by Lake Audubon in Reston (photo by Marjorie Copson)

(Updated at 9:25 a.m.) Fire and Rescue Rejects Agreement in Sexual Harassment Complaint — The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that a former Fairfax County firefighter was sexually harassed by a captain in 2017 and demoted after she reported it. But the county fire department has refused an agreement requiring improved efforts to address sexual harassment, new training, and a $150,000 award to the woman, raising the possibility of a federal lawsuit. [The Washington Post]

Pedestrian Killed in Lorton Crash Identified — The Fairfax County Police Department says Keith Thomas, 24, was walking in the southbound lanes of Richmond Highway when he was hit by the driver of a 2005 GMC Sierra at 1:28 a.m. Friday (July 8) at the I-95 interchange. The driver called for help, but Thomas was struck by other vehicles and ultimately died at the scene. [FCPD]

McLean Man Sentenced for Covid Relief Fraud — “A McLean businessman who bilked nearly $1.6 million from federal coronavirus relief programs and spent much of the money on a mansion with its own movie theater and cigar room was sentenced Friday to two years and nine months in prison.” [The Washington Post]

West Springfield House Fire Reported Yesterday — “House fire on 7/10 in 8500 block of Grigsby Drive in West Springfield area. Heavy fire on arrival. No occupants were home at time of fire. Five occupants were displaced. There were no reported injuries. Fire is under investigation. Damages: $594,825.” [FCFRD/Twitter]

Burke & Herbert to Consolidate in Kingstowne — “The bank will remain headquartered at 100 S. Fairfax St. in Old Town Alexandria, but a ‘large portion’ of its local workforce, currently dispersed across the area, will shift to 5680 King Centre Drive in Kingstowne. Burke & Herbert paid $22 million for that 113,000-square-foot building July 1, according to Fairfax County records.” [Washington Business Journal]

Virginia Workers Leave Over Telework Policy — “More than 300 employees from five state agencies have resigned since Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced Virginia’s new telework policy in early May, according to records obtained by 8News. This includes 183 Virginia Department of Transportation employees, 28 of whom cited ‘telework options’ as the reason for leaving.” [ABC8]

Vienna Band Director Steps Away — “A long commute to and from Anne Arundel County, Md., has prompted Cornelius Young to give up his post as music director for the Vienna Community Band, but he leaves with good memories of the group and the town. Young, who has been with the band since October 2014, decided to try for the job after not being selected to lead Annandale High School’s band.” [Sun Gazette]

Reston Student on Performing “Newsies” — “Reston Community Players’ new apprentice program is designed to help students ages 13 to 18 interested in theater gain pre-professional performance and technical experience. That’s exactly what Anna Schoenborn, a rising junior at South Lakes High School in Reston is gaining this summer with RCP’s production of ‘Newsies.'” [Patch]

It’s Monday — Clear throughout the day. High of 82 and low of 66. Sunrise at 5:54 am and sunset at 8:37 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Headphones with mic by a laptop (via Petr Macháček/Unsplash)

A 33-year-old man from McLean will go to prison for three years after participating in a scam involving technical support call centers, Department of Justice prosecutors announced on Friday (June 3).

Bruhaspaty Prasad “conspired with several other individuals” to defraud more than 1,300 people, most of them elderly, out of $1.6 million between April 2016 and September 2021, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.

According to the news release, Prasad collaborated with people in India on a scheme where he created several businesses that claimed to offer technical support:

The defendant’s co-conspirators contacted the victims through unsolicited telephone calls and pop-up notifications on their computers claiming, in part, that the victims needed assistance to remove malware from their computers. In other instances, the call center employees pretended to be associated with companies like Amazon and Microsoft and falsely led the victims to believe that there were issues with their online accounts. The victims were duped into signing contracts for technical support services that were never rendered. Once the victims agreed to pay for services, they were frequently contacted again for additional services and charged additional fees.

In addition to creating the fraudulent tech support companies, Prasad opened three businesses in Virginia that served as recipients for the scheme’s proceeds, “a significant portion” of which was sent to his co-conspirators in India.

“Prasad continued operating these businesses and obtaining victims’ funds even after personally receiving several complaints and negative online reviews,” the DOJ said. “Rather than closing the business entirely, Prasad continued to open businesses to allow the fraud scheme to proceed.”

According to the prosecutors’ office, Amazon provided “substantial assistance” to investigators. Court records show that the case was filed on March 7, and Prasad was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton.

Photo via Petr Macháček/Unsplash

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Morning Notes

Reston Town Center set up for last weekend’s Tephra ICA Arts Festival (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

What to Know About Monkeypox — “More monkeypox cases have been reported in the United States since the first illness was reported in Massachusetts last week. But there’s no need for Virginia residents to panic, health officials say as they learn more about how the viral disease is spread.” [Patch]

County to Talk About Youth Mental Health Issues and Drug Use — “As a parent, our kids’ wellbeing is my top priority. Today, the Board supported my motion to convene a roundtable with reps from [Department of Family Services], our Opioid Task Force, clinical pros, the BOS and school board to directly tackle youth mental health & substance use.” [Jeff McKay/Twitter]

McLean Woman Settles Fraud Case — A McLean resident has agreed to pay $107,347 to settle allegations that she falsified information to obtain two Paycheck Protection Program loans, totaling $42,601, federal prosecutors said yesterday (Tuesday). The Justice Department prosecuted the woman as part of its efforts to crack down on fraud related to COVID-19 relief funds. [DOJ]

Arlington Doughnut Shop Plans Tysons Kitchen — “Good Company Doughnuts & Café has inked a lease for roughly 5,000 square feet at 8524-G Tyco Road…for a kitchen commissary, where it will produce and assemble its products for off-site retail sale…Good Company hopes to have the commissary operating by the end of 2022, [co-owner Charles] Kachadoorian said.” [Washington Business Journal]

Metro Introduces Navigation App to Help Blind Riders — “Metro has partnered with Waymap, a new UK-based start-up, to bring the technology to the Brookland, Silver Spring, and Braddock Road Metro stations…The app will be available in at least 30 Metro train and nearly 1,000 bus stops by September; the entire system is scheduled to be brought online by early 2023.” [DCist]

Cybersecurity Company Moves Within Tysons — “Codehunter…relocated from 1660 International Drive to 1775 Greensboro Station Pl. and expanded their corporate headquarters. Codehunter, represented by Timothy Jacobs and Edward Saa, needed to expand their office footprint due to business growth while also needed to re-strategize their office footprint to support their hybrid work model.” [CityBiz]

New School Board Student Representative Chosen — “Michele Togbe, a junior at South County High School, has been elected by the countywide Student Advisory Council (SAC) to serve a one-year term as student representative to the Fairfax County School Board, beginning July 1…Togbe has three main focuses as student representative: transparency within students’ voices, furthering civic education, and maintaining an equitable lens.” [FCPS]

Local Students Relax with Yarn — “About a dozen third, fourth, fifth and sixth graders gather at lunch several times a week at Little Run ES to knit and loom together. The program was initially launched as an after-school effort paid for with Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief aid, or ESSER III funding.” [FCPS]

It’s Wednesday — Overcast throughout the day. High of 64 and low of 56. Sunrise at 5:50 am and sunset at 8:25 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland (via Walter Reed)

A group of eight people, including a 59-year-old Fairfax County man, has been charged with engaging in a scheme to defraud Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and the federal government, authorites say.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland said Wednesday (April 6) that Akbar Masood of Great Falls was indicted by a grand jury for conspiracy to commit health care fraud and wire fraud and related charges.

Between 2017 and 2019, the individuals allegedly obtained approximately $3.3 million from Walter Reed medical center and the Defense Health Agency.

Marc Hall, the attorney representing Masood, said yesterday (Thursday) that he had no comment from his client on the case, which is being held in federal court in Greenbelt, Maryland.

“If convicted, the defendants each face a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison for conspiracy to commit health care fraud and wire fraud,” prosecutors said in a news release.

The grand jury charged Masood and six others with eight counts of wire fraud. Each count of wire fraud can come with a sentence up to 20 years as well as fines.

According to prosecutors, the scheme involved presenting documentation that claimed their contracting company could perform medical coding, but Masood and others allegedly used stolen identities of real people to sign agreements, among other allegations.

An indictment only signals that a grand jury thought there was enough evidence to charge a person with a crime.

Photo via Walter Reed National Military Medical Center

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A Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office cruiser (via Abigail Salomon/Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office on Facebook)

A 38-year-old man from Herndon was charged with larceny and fraud-related charges earlier this month.

Steven Canavan turned himself in to the Loudoun County Adult Detention Center on March 18 in connection with the 2021 incidents, according to a Wednesday (March 30) crime report.

Police belief that Canavan embezzled from Michael & Son Sportsplex in Sterling.

“Upon finishing the investigation it was determine that the employee took cash, items and Venmo payments that were for the business,” the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office said.

Someone also reported that Canavan may have attempted to pay back a personal loan with a forged cashier’s check, according to LCSO.

Both incidents happened between June 1 and December 17.

Canavan was released on an unsecured personal recognizance bond.

Photo via Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office/Facebook

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