Another Houston man Joshua Thomas Argires charged with COVID relief fraud

Another Houston man charged with COVID relief fraud

(STL.News) – A local man has been taken into custody on allegations he fraudulently obtained more than $1.1 million in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, announced U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick and Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.

Joshua Thomas Argires, 29, Houston, is charged in a criminal complaint with making false statements to a financial institution, wire fraud, bank fraud and engaging in unlawful monetary transactions.

Argires allegedly perpetrated a scheme to file two fraudulent loan applications seeking more than $1.1 million in forgivable loans.  The Small Business Administration (SBA) guarantees the loans for COVID-19 relief through the PPP under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

The complaint alleges Argires submitted two fraudulent PPP loan applications to federally insured banks.  One of these applications was submitted on behalf of an entity called Texas Barbecue; the other was filed on behalf of a company called Houston Landscaping. Argires allegedly claimed these two companies had numerous employees and hundreds of thousands of dollars in payroll expenses.

According to the complaint, neither Texas Barbecue nor Houston Landscaping has employees or pays wages consistent with the amounts claimed in the PPP loan applications.  The complaint further asserts that both of these loans were funded, but that none of the funds were used for payroll or other expenses authorized under the PPP.  Rather, the funds received on behalf of Texas Barbecue were invested in a cryptocurrency account, while the funds obtained for Houston Landscaping were held in a bank account and slowly depleted via ATM withdrawals, according to the charges.

The CARES Act is a federal law enacted March 29.  It is designed to provide emergency financial assistance to millions of Americans who are suffering the economic effects resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.  One source of relief the CARES Act provides is the authorization of up to $349 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses for job retention and certain other expenses through the PPP.  In April 2020, Congress authorized over $300 billion in additional PPP funding.

The PPP allows qualifying small businesses and other organizations to receive loans with a maturity of two years and an interest rate of one percent.  Businesses must use PPP loan proceeds for payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent and utilities.  The PPP allows the interest and principal to be forgiven if businesses spend the proceeds on these expenses within a set time period and use at least a certain percentage of the loan towards payroll expenses.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency – Office of the Inspector General (OIG), SBA – OIG and U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s Houston Division conducted the investigation.  Trial Attorney Timothy A. Duree of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney James McAlister for the Southern District of Texas are prosecuting the case.

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