LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — A Panorama City man faces federal charges of taking more than $860,000 in coronavirus relief loans for a sham sewing business.
Arman Manukyan, 49, who is believed to have fled the United States for Belarus, has been charged with one count each of bank fraud and aggravated identity theft in a criminal complaint filed this week in U.S. District Court. He faces a statutory maximum sentence of 32 years in federal prison if convicted.
Federal prosecutors say Manukyan submitted two applications for Paycheck Protection Program loans to Bank of America for $1.7 million on behalf of two shell companies registered in his name – Argo Global Inc., which he claimed was a sewing business in Beverly Hills with 73 employees, and Express Wiring, a shell company in Glendale.
The Paycheck Protection Program was approved by Congress to distribute billions in forgivable loans to small businesses for job retention and other expenses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
An $867,187 loan was approved for Argo Global, Inc., and prosecutors say Manukyan shortly transferred most of that balance to two of his personal bank accounts. When a bank investigator contacted him after one of his accounts had been frozen because of suspicious activity, Manukyan allegedly said he would use the loan to start a limousine business, contradicting what he wrote on his loan application.
The loan for Express Wiring was rejected by the Small Business Administration.
A seizure warrant was executed in July on Manukyan’s bank accounts, recovering $866,019. Investigators who searched Manukyan’s home on July 22 found multiple debit cards used for California EDD benefits in the names of different people, according to the Department of Justice. Manukyan claimed he found two of the cards on the street and kept them, but never used them. Another $118,474 was recovered from debit cards linked to Manukyan, prosecutors said.
On Aug. 9, investigators were notified that Mankuyan had boarded a flight from Mexico City inbound to Paris, with a final destination of Minsk, Belarus, according to federal officials.