Restauranteur pleads guilty to massive COVID-19 pandemic loan fraud and interstate threats

Damien Williams, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today that restaurateur BESIM KUKAJ has pleaded guilty to bank fraud conspiracy and interstate intimidation charges. KUKAJ pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Andrew L. Carter.

U.S. Attorney Damien Williams said: Kukai told the bank that his restaurant operated with dozens of employees, but actually employed far fewer. I sent him a $1.5 million loan. Even after his arrest, Kukaj continued to submit false loan applications. Kukai now faces the possibility of a significant period of imprisonment for these serious crimes. ”

According to allegations contained in filings in Manhattan federal court:

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act is a federal law enacted on March 29, 2020 to help those suffering the economic impact caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. It aims to provide emergency financial assistance to millions of Americans. One source of relief provided by the CARES Act is hundreds of billions of dollars in relief to small businesses for job retention and certain other costs through the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”). It was a possible loan approval. Under the CARES Act, the amount of her PPP funding a company is eligible to receive will depend on the number of employees the company employs and its average labor costs. Companies applying for PPP loans must provide documentation confirming that they have previously paid their employees the compensation specified in the loan application.

Between at least around April 2020 and around July 2020, KUKAJ worked with others to submit applications for PPP loans to multiple banks on behalf of various restaurants KUKAJ or relatives he owns. . He did this on behalf of restaurants that are no longer operating or have far fewer employees than stated in the PPP loan. KUKAJ and his co-conspirators have applied for his PPP loans totaling about $3.9 million in dozens of cases, from numerous financial institutions and using various corporate entities, and have applied for at least $1.5 million of his PPP loans. I have successfully received a PPP loan. KUKAJ said he was arrested in October 2020 and charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud, and was later charged with the same charges in December 2020. He was released on pretrial release pursuant to an order informed of the potential repercussions of committing a crime during his pretrial release.

However, in January 2021, KUKAJ submitted another false loan application for one of the same restaurants that submitted a false application in July 2020. In the same month, KUKAJ applied for his PPP loans for six of his businesses that he owned, submitting false documentation for each. Out of 6 businesses. These his January 2021 applications and demands were not funded by the bank to which he submitted false documents.

Separately, on November 6, 2019, at the request of KUKAJ, his co-conspirator called the victim. The phone was in interstate commerce, and the co-conspirator threatened physical violence against the victim during the call. KUKAJ instructed the co-conspirator to make this call because the victim owes money.

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KUKAJ, 42, of New Jersey, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to commit bank fraud, was sentenced to up to 40 years in prison, and was sentenced to one count of making cross-state intimidation, facing up to A five-year prison term was handed down. Under the terms of his plea bargain, KUKAJ also agreed to pay his $1,500,000 forfeiture.

The maximum sentencing in this case is set by Congress, and the defendant’s sentencing is determined by the judge, so it is provided here for informational purposes only. KUKAJ said he will be sentenced by Judge Carter on March 9, 2023 at 2:00 pm.

Williams praised the excellent work of the FBI New York’s Balkan and Middle East Organized Crime Task Force, as well as the Inspector General’s Office of Small Business Administration, the Inspector General’s Office of Social Security Administration, and the New York Liquor Administration. Their investigative efforts and their continued support and assistance with the case.

The prosecution of this case is overseen by the Office’s Money Laundering and Multinational Criminal Enterprises Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Samuel L. Raymond and David R. Felton are in charge of the case.

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