Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Seven Chicago-Area Residents Face Federal Charges for $16 Million COVID-Relief Fraud

Seven Chicago-area residents are accused of fraudulently obtaining at least $16 million in COVID-19 funds through hundreds of falsified loan applications at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

Marko Nikolic, 34, of La Grange, Ill.; Maja Nikolic, 34, of Brookfield, Ill.; Nebojsa Simeunovic, 37, of Lyons, Ill.; Milica Sumakovic, 31, of Chicago; Branko Aleksic, 33, of Chicago; Mijajlo Stanisic, 33, of Willowbrook, Ill.; and Dorde Todorovic, 32, of Chicago, have all been charged with money laundering and wire fraud by federal prosecutors in Chicago.

The defendants submitted applications to the Small Business Administration in the spring and summer of 2020, which are fraudulent, claiming to own and operate various businesses in Florida and Illinois.

To use them as shell companies for their applications for small business loans and grants under the COVID-Relief and Economic Security Act, the defendants allegedly paid to have previously dissolved businesses reincorporated, as detailed in a 33-count indictment.

The claims against those applications include “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 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,” according to the indictment.

Prosecutors claim that the defendants caused the SBA to award at least $16 million in loans and grants through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program as part of their alleged scheme. They then made cash withdrawals and transfers for their benefit.

Each wire fraud and money laundering charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison. There is no date yet for the defendants’ arraignments in Chicago’s federal court.

The National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline can be reached at 866-720-5721, and anyone with information about attempted fraud involving COVID-19 is advised to contact the Department of Justice.