Benjamin Tifekchian, 47, of Portland, Ore., was undoubtedly bedazzled by the thought of obtaining free money from the U.S. Government during the global COVID-19 pandemic. He used his jewelry business, Bencho Jewlery Inc. (Bencho), to illegally apply for and receive emergency financial assistance to keep his business up and running. What was the result of misrepresenting his company’s revenue, number of years the business was in operation, and number of people he employed? A cool $884,000 he didn’t deserve and eventually, a prison sentence. (He had to return the money he stole, and more.)
Tifekchian carried out a fraud scheme that stole taxpayer dollars through Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) and Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. As the sole owner and employee of Bento, Tifekchian falsely declared on EIDL applications in April and August 2020 that he generated as much as $758,000 in revenue with 12 employees over 20 years of operation. (According to court documents, Bencho never generated more than $500 in any calendar year, nor had any employees at the business that was incorporated in 2019.) The Small Business Administration (SBA) denied those applications.
In June 2020, Tifekchian tried again by submitting PPP applications. He hit the jackpot and acquired $884,000 after falsely claiming he employed 78 people and had an average monthly payroll of $353,698. (While waiting out the pandemic, his customers must have spent their hard-earned money on jewelry instead of basic necessities like rent, food and utilities.) The SBA backed the loan, paying the lender more than $26,000 in fees.
Tifekchian enjoyed his new fat bank account, courtesy of the U.S. Government. He used the ill-gained funds to gamble, go on vacations, not to mention personal expenses. Thankfully, the lender – Bank of America – suspected fraud and put a freeze on the loan after Tifekchian spent around $68,000. (About that time, the stolen bling lost its sparkle.)
Tifekchian pleaded guilty to bank fraud and is facing a maximum sentence of three decades in prison, a $1 million fine, and five years’ supervised release for stealing taxpayer funds that were intended to help small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the fraudster has accepted responsibility, the government will recommend a sentence of at least 21 months in prison. (Lucky for him.) Tifekchian agreed to pay $910,773.35 in restitution, which includes $26,527 to the SBA. (I’m guessing that covers the fees paid to the lender.)
Keep an eye out for COVID-19 pandemic-related fraud. It seems to be everywhere. You can report it by calling the Justice Department’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.
Today’s Fraud of the Day comes from a Department of Justice press release, “Portland Man Pleads Guilty to Bank Fraud After Stealing Covid-Relief Funds,” dated January 25, 2022.
PORTLAND, Ore.—A Portland man pleaded guilty today for perpetrating a scheme to steal funds intended to help small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Benjamin Tifekchian, 47, pleaded guilty to bank fraud.