Owners Of Grand Rapids Trucking Company Plead Guilty To Bank Fraud Conspiracy, Pay $1,000,000 In Related Civil Case, In Connection With Covid-19 Relief Fraud
DMR Transportation Falsified Financial Records To Receive A Second-Draw Loan Under The Paycheck Protection Program
GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN — Semsi Salja and Anes Suhonjic, the owners of Grand Rapids-based trucking company DMR Transportation (“DMR”), pleaded guilty in federal court today to conspiring to commit bank fraud in connection with a $290,855.00 loan under the Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”). In a related civil case, DMR, Salja, and Suhonjic agreed to pay a total of $1,000,000.00, including a substantial civil monetary penalty under the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act (“FIRREA”).
In 2020, Congress enacted the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the “CARES Act”) to provide emergency federal assistance to the millions of Americans suffering from the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the PPP, the CARES Act authorized forgivable loans to small businesses for job retention and certain other expenses. In December 2020, Congress enacted the Economic Aid to Hard-Hit Small Businesses Act, which reopened the PPP to first-time borrowers and, subject to stricter limitations and conditions, authorized second-draw PPP loans to borrowers that previously received a PPP loan. Borrowers were eligible for second-draw PPP loans if, among other things, they experienced a revenue reduction of 25% or greater in 2020 relative to 2019.
In its second-draw PPP loan application, DMR knowingly and falsely certified that it realized the required 25% reduction in gross receipts between the second financial quarter of 2019 and the second financial quarter of 2020. DMR also submitted falsified quarterly balance sheets and other false financial records that were signed by Salja and Suhonjic alongside the application. In September 2021, DMR sought forgiveness of its second-draw PPP loan by falsely certifying that its second-draw PPP loan proceeds were used to pay eligible business expenses when, in fact, DMR held that money in reserve.
“The PPP involved a limited pool of funds to help small businesses wracked by the disruption of a global pandemic,” United States Attorney Mark Totten said. “By fraudulently obtaining a second PPP loan, DMR took, for itself, hundreds of thousands of dollars that could have been used to help deserving companies. My office will continue to aggressively investigate and prosecute these cases.”
“By illegally taking additional money from the Paycheck Protection Program, these defendants harmed the owners and employees of small businesses struggling through the pandemic,” said James A. Tarasca, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Michigan. “The FBI is committed to working with our law enforcement partners to investigate and hold accountable anyone taking advantage of a global pandemic to line their own pockets.”
“Today’s guilty plea and FIRREA civil penalties hold the defendants responsible for their roles in fraudulently obtaining a second loan under a federal relief program created to assist small businesses who were struggling as a result of the pandemic,” said Special Agent in Charge Kathy A. Enstrom of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Office of Inspector General (FDIC-OIG). “The FDIC-OIG remains committed to working with our law enforcement partners to hold those accountable who seek to abuse such programs and undermine the integrity of our Nation’s banks.”
Salja and Suhonjic face a maximum of five years in prison. United States District Judge Jane M. Beckering will determine their sentences after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
The civil settlement includes the resolution of claims brought under the whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act. Under those statutory provisions, a private party can file an action on behalf of the United States and receive a portion of the settlement or judgment proceeds. The whistleblower case is captioned, United States ex rel DePouw v. DMR Transportation, et al., No. 1:21-cv-548 (W.D. Mich.).
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Davin M. Reust and Adam B. Townshend represented the United States. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s Office of Inspector General and the FBI investigated the case.