Portland man sentenced to federal prison for stealing COVID relief funds

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A Portland man was sentenced to federal prison today for scheming to steal funds intended for small businesses during the pandemic. 

48-year-old Benjamin Tifekchian was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison and five years’ supervised release, as well as paying $910,000 in restitution. 

That includes more than $26,000 to the Small Business Administration (SBA). 

Tifekchian incorporated Bencho Jewelry, Inc. in 2019 in the State of Oregon as the sole owner and officer. 

The company never had any employees or generated more than $500 in revenue during any single year. 

When Congressed passed small business assistance through the CARES Act in March 2020, Tifekchian fraudulently applied for CARES Act-authorized Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) and Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans for his business. 

According to the EIDL applications submitted to SBA in April and August 2020, he falsely claimed that Bencho had generated up to $758,000 in revenue, had been operating for 20 years, and employed 12 people. 

Both applications were denied. 

Tifekchian managed to receive more than $884,000 in PPP funds after claiming his company employed 78 people and had an average monthly payroll of $353,698.

SBA guaranteed the loan and paid Bank of America, the FDIC-insured loan issuer, more than $26,000 in fees.

Tifekchian then used the money from the loan to pay for gambling, vacations, and other personal expenses. 

Bank of America froze the funds after suspecting fraud, but only after Tifekchian spent more than $68,000. 

On July 13, 2021, a federal grand jury in Portland returned a two-count indictment charging Tifekchian with bank fraud and wire fraud.

On January 25, 2022, he pleaded guilty to bank fraud.

U.S. Attorney Scott Erik Asphaug of the District of Oregon made the announcement.

This case was investigated by the FBI, U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), and the SBA Office of Inspector General. Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan W. Bounds is prosecuting the case.

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