A suburban Chicago restaurateur is facing fraud charges after she allegedly fraudulently obtained more than $175,000 in loans for her defunct business from a federal coronavirus (COVID-19) relief fund.
Melissa Turasky, 43, of Lake in the Hills, IL, was charged with one count of bank fraud and one count of making false statements to a financial institution. It is unclear if she has acquired the services of an attorney.
According to the criminal complaint, the accused was the owner of Gifford’s Kitchen and Social in Elgin. The restaurant reportedly went under in March 2020 and was evicted from its rental space on 2300 Bushwood Drive. All of its employees were terminated by the end of that month, the complaint states.
Despite the fact that Gifford’s was shuttered, she allegedly applied for a loan from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) on behalf of the business on April 10. She reportedly submitted a fraudulent loan application to a bank and provided false figures estimating the restaurant’s monthly payroll and other expenses in order to make it look like the business was still operational. Once she received the loan, she allegedly used it to make payments on her credit card, prosecutors said in her indictment.
The PPP is a federal COVID-19 relief program authorized under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that was passed by Congress in March 2020. The loans, which are guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA), are meant to provide emergency financial assistance to American businesses struggling with the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Congress authorized over $650 billion in loans for small businesses to use for employee salaries, rent and utilities, and interest on mortgages.
“The Paycheck Protection Program was designed as a lifeline for small businesses struggling to survive the COVID-19 pandemic,” said U.S. Attorney Lausch. “Our office is committed to working with our law enforcement partners to root out abuse of the important relief programs established under the CARES Act.”
The 43-year old defendant is the second Chicago-area business owner charged with fraud in relation to the PPP. In June, Rahul Shah of Evanston allegedly applied for $441,000 in loans after grossly exaggerating his company’s payroll expenses. According to the indictment in that case, the accused from Evanston, 51, purportedly claimed the forms he used in the application were erroneously sent to him by workers in India. He later backpedaled and told investigators that they didn’t actually come from India and that he had filed them himself thinking, “it will keep our business alive,” sources indicate.
The allegations against the accused from Illinois and the accused from Evanston aren’t unique; the Justice Department has reportedly made at least 40 criminal complaints in federal court against nearly 60 people, who collectively received $62 million from the PPP using doctored documents, false certifications, and stolen identities.
Anyone suspected of committing fraud related to federal COVID-19 relief programs should immediately consult an experienced fraud defense attorney. A good attorney can examine the evidence, conduct an independent investigation, and determine the best course of action to minimize the potential penalties or have the charges dropped.
South Florida Fraud Defense Attorney
Are you accused of committing fraud in South Florida involving federal COVID-19 relief programs? Contact Brian Silber, P.A. to set up a free initial consultation with one of South Florida’s most experienced fraud defense attorneys.