BOSTON – The owner of a Massachusetts-based food truck business pleaded guilty today to filing fraudulent loan applications in order to obtain $1.5 million in pandemic relief under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the American Rescue Plan Act.
Loc Vo, 55, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud. U.S. Senior District Court Judge William G. Young scheduled sentencing for May 3, 2023. Vo was arrested and charged in July 2022.
Vo owned Smart Gourmet LLC (Smart Gourmet), a food truck business in Massachusetts, and Indy Publish, a dormant Maryland company. Between April 2020 and July 2021, Vo submitted loan applications on behalf of these businesses under three Small Business Administration (SBA) pandemic relief programs: the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program (EIDL), and the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF). In these applications, Vo requested approximately $1.5 million and committed to use the funds for rent, mortgage interest, payroll and utilities, among other eligible expenses.
After receiving the relief funds, Vo immediately transferred most of them to brokerage accounts in his name to purchase shares in an electric car manufacturer, an internet marketplace company and a biotechnology company, among others.
The CARES Act is a federal law enacted on March 29, 2020, designed to provide emergency financial assistance to the millions of Americans who are suffering the economic effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. One source of relief provided by the CARES Act was the authorization of forgivable loans to small businesses for job retention and certain approved expenses, through the PPP. Another is the EIDL, through which the SBA offers loans that can only be used on certain permissible business expenses, which can include payment of fixed business debts, payroll, accounts payable, and other business-related expenses that could have been paid had the COVID-19 disaster not occurred. The American Rescue Plan Act established the RRF to provide funding to help restaurants and other eligible businesses keep their doors open through forgivable loans for eligible uses.
The charge of wire fraud provides for a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000, or twice the gross gain or loss from the scheme, whichever is greater. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and statutes which govern the determination of a sentence in a criminal case.
United States Attorney Rachael S. Rollins; Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Division; and Joleen D. Simpson, Special Agent in Charge of the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigations in Boston made the announcement today. Assistant U.S. Attorney Benjamin A. Saltzman of Rollins’ Securities, Financial & Cyber Fraud Unit is prosecuting the case.
On May 17, 2021, the Attorney General established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force to marshal the resources of the Department of Justice in partnership with agencies across government to enhance efforts to combat and prevent pandemic-related fraud. The Task Force bolsters efforts to investigate and prosecute the most culpable domestic and international criminal actors and assists agencies tasked with administering relief programs to prevent fraud by, among other methods, augmenting and incorporating existing coordination mechanisms, identifying resources and techniques to uncover fraudulent actors and their schemes, and sharing and harnessing information and insights gained from prior enforcement efforts. For more information on the Department’s response to the pandemic, please visit https://www.justice.gov/coronavirus.
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 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form at: https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.