Portland Man Sentenced to Federal Prison for Stealing Covid-Relief Funds
PORTLAND, Ore.—A Portland man was sentenced to federal prison today for perpetrating a scheme to steal funds intended to help small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Benjamin Tifekchian, 48, was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison and five years’ supervised release. Tifekchian was also ordered to pay more than $910,000 in restitution, including more than $26,000 to the Small Business Administration (SBA).
According to court documents, in May 2019, Tifekchian incorporated Bencho Jewelry Inc. (Bencho) in the State of Oregon and served as the company’s sole owner and officer. Bencho never had any employees and never generated more than $500 in revenue in any calendar year.
After Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March 2020 to provide emergency financial assistance to millions of Americans suffering the economic effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Tifekchian devised and perpetrated a scheme to defraud the SBA by fraudulently applying for CARES Act-authorized Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) and Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans on behalf of Bencho.
In EIDL applications submitted to SBA in April and August 2020, Tifekchian falsely claimed Bencho had generated as much as $758,000 in revenue, had been operating for 20 years, and employed 12 people. SBA denied both applications. In June 2020, Tifekchian successfully obtained more than $884,000 in PPP funding after falsely claiming Bencho employed 78 people and had an average monthly payroll of $353,698. SBA guaranteed the loan and paid Bank of America, the FDIC-insured loan issuer, more than $26,000 in fees.
Tifekchian used the PPP loan to pay for gambling, vacations, and other personal expenses. Suspecting fraud, Bank of America froze the loan funds, but only after Tifekchian had spent more than $68,000.
On July 13, 2021, a federal grand jury in Portland returned a two-count indictment charging Tifekchian with bank fraud and wire fraud. On January 25, 2022, he pleaded guilty to bank fraud.
U.S. Attorney Scott Erik Asphaug of the District of Oregon made the announcement.
This case was investigated by the FBI, U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), and the SBA Office of Inspector General. Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan W. Bounds is prosecuting the case.
Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Justice Department’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.