Couple Charged in $1.4M COVID Fraud Scheme After Trying to Flee Country

A couple from Virginia has been arrested and charged in an alleged scheme to defraud more than $1.4 million in federal money approved by Congress to go to struggling businesses amid the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic.

Monica Magdalena Jaworska, 43, of Ashburn and her husband Tarik Jaafar, 42, were arrested on June 20 as they attempted to leave the U.S. for Poland via John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, according to a press release issued by the Justice Department. Jaworska appeared in court last week to face charges of allegedly conspiring to commit wire fraud.

"Between April and May 2020, Jaworska and Jaafar submitted eighteen PPP [Paycheck Protection Program] loan applications containing materially false statements to twelve financial institutions in the names of four business entities," the press statement explained. "The applications submitted by Jaworska and Jaafar allegedly were false because they claimed certain payroll tax returns were filed with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for each of the four businesses, when they were not in fact filed with the IRS."

Department of Justice
The U.S. Department of Justice building is seen in Washington, D.C. on July 22, 2019 ALASTAIR PIKE/AFP/Getty

Newsweek reached out to the Justice Department for further comment on the case, but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

The PPP funds were approved as part of the CARES Act, which passed with bipartisan support in Congress at the end of March as the country implemented lockdowns to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. In addition to providing nearly $350 billion in loans for struggling businesses, the legislation expanded unemployment insurance and gave one-time checks of up to $1,200 to the majority of Americans.

Jaworska and Jaafar are accused of receiving loans totaling $1,438,500 in the allegedly fraudulent scheme. The couple managed to withdraw at least $30,000 of the funds in cash, although the bulk of the money was frozen.

If convicted, a federal district court judge would be able to sentence them to up to 20 years in prison for the alleged crime.

Attorney General William Barr urged the public in March to be vigilant and report any suspected fraud related to the novel coronavirus pandemic to the Justice Department. But the focus of that initial memo was on individuals promoting false cures and/or treatments, price gouging, and those seeking fraudulent donations.

"Attorney General Barr directed all U.S. Attorneys to prioritize the investigation and prosecution of Coronavirus-related fraud schemes," the Justice Department said in a March 20 press release.

"In a follow-up memorandum issued March 19, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen further directed each U.S. Attorney to appoint a Coronavirus Fraud Coordinator to serve as the legal counsel for the federal judicial district on matters relating to the Coronavirus, direct the prosecution of Coronavirus-related crimes, and to conduct outreach and awareness."

The PPP has faced significant controversy since it was passed. Many large and high-profile businesses took loans under the program, which was intended to support small businesses. While some of these companies and organizations have since returned the funds, others have refused. Legal experts have suggested it would be difficult to prosecute large companies who took the loans without needing to, citing the vague wording of the requirements to receive the funds.