NEWARK, N.J. – A Bergen County, New Jersey, attorney who allegedly fraudulently obtained nearly $9 million in federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans has been indicted, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito and Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division announced
Jae H. Choi, 48, of Cliffside Park, New Jersey, previously charged by complaint, was charged by indictment on Sept. 15, 2020, with four counts of bank fraud, four counts of false statements on a loan application, one count of aggravated identity theft, and one count of money laundering. The indictment seeks to forfeit 11 bank accounts and one investment account for the proceeds of the fraud, as well as a million-dollar home Choi purchased in Cresskill, New Jersey. An arraignment date has not yet been set.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
Choi submitted four fraudulent PPP loan applications to four lenders on behalf of four businesses that purportedly provided educational services. Choi fabricated the existence of hundreds of employees, manipulated bank and tax records, and falsified a driver’s license on the applications.
Choi falsely represented to the lenders that the companies controlled by him had hundreds of employees and paid over $3 million in monthly wages. In one instance, Choi emailed a lender falsely claiming that he just told 150 of his employees that they were losing their jobs because the PPP loan had not yet come through, and that he had “watched grown men and women crying.” Choi wrote in that same email that he “sincerely hope[d]” that the lender’s employee “would never find [himself] in this kind of situation.”
Based on Choi’s alleged misrepresentations, three of the four lenders funded three businesses with an approximately $3 million PPP loan each. Choi received a total of nearly $9 million in federal COVID-19 emergency relief funds meant for distressed small businesses.
Choi used the fraudulently obtained PPP loan proceeds to pay for numerous personal expenses, including to buy a nearly $1 million home in Cresskill, New Jersey, fund approximately $30,000 in remodeling and other improvements, and invest millions more in the stock market through an account held in the name of his spouse.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act is a federal law enacted March 29. It is designed to provide emergency financial assistance to millions of Americans who are suffering the economic effects resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. One source of relief provided by the CARES Act is the authorization of up to $349 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses for job retention and certain other expenses through the PPP. In April 2020, Congress authorized over $300 billion in additional PPP funding.
The PPP allows qualifying small businesses and other organizations to receive loans with a maturity of two years and an interest rate of 1 percent. Businesses must use PPP loan proceeds for payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent and utilities. The PPP allows the interest and principal to be forgiven if businesses spend the proceeds on these expenses within a set time period and use at least a certain percentage of the loan towards payroll expenses.
This case was investigated by IRS – Criminal Investigation, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Michael Montanez; inspectors of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, under the direction of Inspector in Charge James Buthorn; the Small Business Administration Office of the Inspector General; and the Social Security Administration – Office of the Inspector General.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Macurdy of the District of New Jersey and Trial Attorney Andrew Tyler of the Fraud Section of the Department of Justice, Criminal Division.
Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form at: https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.
The year 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the Department of Justice. Learn more about the history of our agency at www.Justice.gov/Celebrating150Years.
The charges and allegations in the indictment are merely allegations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.