Seven Chicago-area residents are facing federal charges alleging they fraudulently obtained at least $16 million in COVID-19 funds through hundreds of falsified loan applications during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
Federal prosecutors in Chicago Thursday announced wire fraud and money laundering charges against: Maja Nikolic, 34, of Brookfield, Ill.; Marko Nikolic, 34, of La Grange, Ill.; Nebojsa Simeunovic, 37, of Lyons, Ill.; Mijajlo Stanisic, 33, of Willowbrook, Ill.; Branko Aleksic, 33, of Chicago; Milica Sumakovic, 31, of Chicago; and Dorde Todorovic, 32, of Chicago.
In the spring and summer of 2020, the defendants allegedly submitted fraudulent applications to the Small Business Administration in which they claimed to own and operate various businesses in Illinois and Florida.
According to a 33-count indictment, the defendants paid to have previously dissolved businesses reincorporated in order to use them as shell companies through which they could apply for small business loans and grants under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.
Those applications allegedly contained “materially false statements and misrepresentations concerning, among other things, the applicants' citizenship status and the purported entities' number of employees, revenues, expenses, type of business and owners.”
The indictment states: “The defendants knew that these companies were not in operation at the time they paid to reincorporate them, that the former owners of the companies had not authorized them to reincorporate or assume responsibility for those companies, and that the defendants had no intention to initiate or resume any business operations under those companies' names.”
As part of their alleged scheme, the defendants caused the SBA to dole out at least $16 million in Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program loans and grants, which they then used to make cash withdrawals and transfers for their personal benefit, prosecutors said.
Each wire fraud and money laundering charge is punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison. The defendants’ arraignments in federal court in Chicago have not yet been scheduled.
Anyone with information about attempted fraud involving COVID-19 is encouraged to report it to the Department of Justice by calling the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721 or by filing an online complaint here.