Washington man allegedly falsely sought $1.5M in coronavirus biz relief funds

A Washington state software engineer is charged with fraudulently seeking over $1.5 million in coronavirus relief funds intended for small business loans, prosecutors announced Friday.

Issaquah resident Baoke Zhang, 35, is accused of filing applications seeking forgivable loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

According to the charges, Zhang sought the relief funds by claiming fake payroll expenses with his non-existent information technology companies.

Zhang allegedly submitted fake documents to two different banks in support of applications for forgivable loans guaranteed by the SBA for coronavirus relief through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

The fake IRS documentation purported to show federal tax withholdings for a sole proprietorship in his name for 25 employees. To show that his businesses had been operating for longer than they actually had, Zhang allegedly submitted documents showing that the IRS had assigned an Employer Identification Number (EIN) to his businesses – one in 2017 and one in 2018. The IRS actually assigned an EIN number for each of his businesses last month – shortly before Zhang submitted his application.

“The defendant allegedly submitted false documents in a brazen scheme to acquire over 1.5 million dollars in loan funds made available for legitimate businesses adversely affected by COVID-19,” Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski said. “The department and our law enforcement partners will continue to identify and bring to justice those who commit fraud on CARES Act programs.”

Zhang faced charges of wire fraud and bank fraud. It was not immediately clear if he had an attorney who could speak on his behalf.

Issaquah is about a 20-minute drive southeast of Seattle.

US lawmakers passed the CARES Act this past March to provide emergency financial assistance for people and businesses suffering from the economic effects caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The bill set aside $349 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses for job retention and expenses through the PPP.

Lawmakers approved more than $300 billion in additional PPP funding in April.

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