November 4, 2022
Fraud Friday – Restaurateur Pleads Guilty to PPP Fraud and Making Interstate Threats
“As he admitted in court today, Besim Kukaj conspired with others to try to secure more than $3.5 million dollars in government-backed loans intended for businesses devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Kukaj told banks that his restaurants operated with dozens of employees, when in fact he employed far fewer people. These brazen lies tricked banks into sending him approximately $1.5 million in loans. Even after his arrest, Kukaj continued to submit false loan applications. Kukaj now faces the possibility of a significant term of incarceration for these serious crimes,” says U.S. Attorney Damian Williams.
Starting in 2020, Besim Kukaj submitted PPP loan applications to different banks on behalf of restaurants owned by him or his relatives. He applied for restaurants that either were not operating at the time or had fewer employees than listed. Working with co-conspirators, he further applied for dozens of PPP loans totaling $3.9 million. He and his co-conspirators managed to obtain $1.5 million in PPP funds.
Kukaj was arrested for these fraud charges in October 2020, and he was later indicted for the same charges in December 2020. With a warning of the potential consequences of committing criminal offenses while released, he was out on pretrial release.
Soon after in January 2021, he filed another loan application for one of the same restaurants he previously filed a loan application for. In addition, he applied for PPP loans for six businesses he owned using false documentation. Banks did not fund any of these loans.
In a separate case from 2019, a co-conspirator placed a phone call that traveled in interstate commerce to a victim, threatening physical violence. Kukaj urged the co-conspirator to make this call because Kukaj owed money to the victim.
Besim Kukaj pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and one count of making interstate threats. He will also pay a forfeiture of $1,500,000 due to the terms of his plea agreement.