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Elk Grove Citizen

Man Pleads Guilty to COVID Relief Fraud, Embezzlement, and Unemployment Fraud

May 27, 2022 12:00AM ● By U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of California

SACRAMENTO, CA (MPG) - Aaron Ashcraft, 42, of Sacramento, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of bank fraud in a scheme to defraud the Paycheck Protection Program of over $1.2 million in COVID-19 relief loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.

The CARES Act was enacted on March 29, 2020, 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 other expenses, through the Paycheck Protection Program.

According to court documents, Ashcraft carried out the fraud scheme between May 2020 and April 2021. As part of his scheme, Ashcraft submitted to SBA-approved lenders at least seven fraudulent Paycheck Protection Program loan applications in the names of purported businesses. In the applications, Ashcraft falsely represented that each of the purported businesses had employees and monthly payroll expenses. To support the Paycheck Protection Program loan applications, Ashcraft submitted fabricated records including Internal Revenue Service forms, checking account statements, and payroll summaries. In total, Ashcraft requested over $1.2 million in Paycheck Protection Program loans and obtained approximately $920,000.

In addition to Paycheck Protection Program fraud, Ashcraft admitted that, from September 2017 through June 2020, he embezzled at least approximately $780,000 from his former employer—a street-sweeping company in Sacramento. Ashcraft held multiple positions at the company, including chief financial officer. As chief financial officer, Ashcraft had access to the company’s business credit card accounts. Without authorization, Ashcraft used those accounts to pay for personal expenses.

Finally, Ashcraft admitted to defrauding the Maine Department of Labor. According to his plea agreement, in July 2020, Ashcraft applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, falsely claiming that he lived in Maine and was unable to work due to COVID-19. To support his application, Ashcraft submitted falsified IRS forms in which he represented that, in 2019, he operated a business in Maine that received over $160,000 in income and made a net profit of over $66,000. In total, Ashcraft fraudulently obtained unemployment compensation of over $58,000.

As part of his plea agreement, Ashcraft agreed to pay restitution as follows:

A total of $919,598 to three SBA-approved lenders; $45,979 to the SBA; $779,832 to his former employer; and $58,050 to the Maine Department of Labor.

This case is the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Office of Inspector General, and the Small Business Administration Office of Inspector General. Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Thuesen is prosecuting the case.

U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller is scheduled to sentence Ashcraft on Aug. 22, 2022. He faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for wire fraud and up to 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine for bank fraud. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the court’s discretion after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.