Feds seize millions in PPP funds from international ministry

A so-called international ministry based in Florida didn't appear to do anything religious and was able to fraudulently obtain millions from the Paycheck Protection Program, federal authorities say.

The U.S. Secret Service seized more than $7.5 million from accounts at Bank of America and another $868,000 from First American Trust from ASLAN International Ministry, according to a civil forfeiture complaint filed in U.S District Court in Orlando, Fla.

When agents went to the Orlando, Florida, address listed for the group, no one answered and the door was locked, according to the complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office in that city.

And the group's website has been taken down. 

"The website contained generic business information believed to have been taken from other websites and generated as their own information," said the complaint, which was filed on Monday. "The links on that website that allowed for a user to give a donation or seek employment were inactive." 

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The complaint asks a judge to sign off on the seized money being forfeited to the federal government "on the grounds that the funds are proceeds from bank fraud offenses."

The case is the latest in a string of law enforcement cracking down on massive fraud in the PPP program, which has led to more than 80 arrests connected to at least $240 million in fraud. The Secret Service alone has some 700 pending PPP-related investigations.

Although the investigation is pending and no arrests have been made, the court filing details how easy it was for the group to obtain a PPP loan.

The probe focuses on the family that appears to run the organization.

An application filed in 2018 for ASLAN International to conduct business in Florida listed one man as chairman and president, his son as vice president and director, and his daughter as secretary and director.

According to the complaint, ASLAN International was told by First Home Bank that it was eligible for $8.4 million in PPP money. Its application, in which it claimed to have 486 employees and non-profit status, said the money would be used for payroll, rent, mortgage and utility payments. IRS records show it reported $51.8 million in revenue in 2019. 

After the loan was approved, the money was wired through two Wells Fargo accounts that listed the son and father as signatories. The funds were then transferred through three Bank of America accounts that listed the daughter as the sole signatory, the complaint said.

Secret Service agents discovered that $868,250 of the funds were sent through a Royal Bank of Canada account in the name of another woman with the same last name as the three family members and then to a First American Trust Bank account held in the name of First American Title Insurance Company. The money was used as a deposit on a $3.7 million home in Orlando in the name of the second woman, the complaint said.

In September, officers from the Florida Highway Patrol stopped a vehicle for speeding along I-75.

The four family members were inside the car, according to the complaint. Authorities said that in the car they found external hard drives, a document shredder, multiple credit and gift cards, laptops as well as a hand-written note that the Department of Homeland Security had frozen their bank account. Among the seized electronic items were a government research manual called "Tracing Money Flows Through Financial Institutions" and news articles about SBA loan fraud investigations.

CNBC has reached out to the Secret Service for comment.

The CARES Act authorized up to $349 billion in loans from the Small Business Administration through the Paycheck Protection Program.


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