The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte has filed fraud charges in two unrelated cases accounting for over $1.84 million in Covid-19 relief funds, including charges against La Shish Kabob owner Izzat Freitekh.
Why it matters: Businesses in Charlotte and beyond are in crisis as many wait for a second stimulus. Meanwhile, “swindlers are seizing the opportunity to pilfer federal economic relief programs to line their own pockets,” Andrew Murray, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina, said in a statement.
The cases: Murray’s office has recovered more than $2 million in fraudulent pandemic relief across the district this year, a spokesperson told the Agenda.
- Izzat, 55, and Tarik, 33, Freitekh were both charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of bank fraud after applying for over $1.7 million in a Payment Protection Program relief loan. Izzat, who owns the popular La Shish Kabob restaurant in East Charlotte, was also charged with one count of false statements. $1.3 million has been recovered by Murray’s office.
- Charlotte resident Bryon Jones, 55, was charged with fraud for applying for, receiving, and spending $142,900 in federal emergency relief funds for personal and “other unauthorized purposes,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office stated. If found guilty of all three counts, Jones could face a maximum of 70 years in prison and a $2 million fine.
Driving the conversation: Before Tarik applied for federal aid with his father, he was posting photos of top-dollar sports cars and posing with celebrities like Nick Cannon, Justin Bieber, Chris Brown, Ariana Grande, and Ed Sheeran, among many others.
- In 2018, he shared a Medium article that called him a “bitcoin billionaire” in the headline.
- His job is listed as a producer on Facebook and IMDB, but he hasn’t been active on social media in the past two years.
What they’re saying: Izzat told the Charlotte Business Journal on Thursday he and his son are innocent: “We are not guilty. We trust the judge and the courts.”
Background: Open since 2011, La Shish Kabob’s Middle Eastern food is among the best in the city. The Agenda has raved about its hummus, falafel, and lamb shank over the years. Calls to the restaurant went unanswered early Friday.
Big picture: Since the pandemic, there have been over 275,000 reports amounting to over $211 million in coronavirus-related fraud loss in the U.S., according to Federal Trade Commission‘s dashboard.
Go deeper: Coronavirus fraud is everywhere