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Sunday, March 3, 2024

Ocala man admits to stealing over $2 million in COVID-19 relief funds

An Ocala man is facing up to two decades in prison and $750,000 in fines after pleading guilty to fraudulently obtaining over $2.4 million in COVID-19 relief loans.

On November 20, 2023, Mohamed A. Awad, 61, entered the guilty plea in New Jersey federal court on charges of wire fraud and money laundering related to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

According to court records, Awad engaged in a scheme to illegally obtain over $2.4 million in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) payments through “numerous misrepresentations to lenders.”

Awad submitted fraudulent loan applications that fabricated the numbers of employees and misrepresented company information in an effort to persuade PPP and EIDL lenders to approve loan applications that they otherwise would not have approved.

In addition, Awad submitted falsified tax documents in support of the PPP applications. According to Internal Revenue Service records, none of these purported tax documents were ever filed with the IRS.

After receiving the funds from the fraudulent loans, Awad transferred the money to his various bank accounts. He then withdrew “significant amounts in cash” and transferred the funds out of the country via wire transfers to banks that are based in Egypt.

The charge of wire fraud carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. Awad also faces a fine of up to $250,000 or twice his gross gain or gross loss to the victim, whichever is greatest.

The money laundering charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $500,000, or twice the value of the monetary instrument or funds involved in the laundering offense, whichever is greater.

A sentencing hearing for Awad is scheduled for April 9, 2024.

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 1-866-720-5721 or by submitting a complaint form on NCDF’s website.