4 men accused of laundering $35 million in COVID-19 relief funds, court documents say

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Four men from the Houston area are facing charges in an alleged $35 million COVID-19 relief scheme.

The men appeared before a judge for the first time Thursday and were released on certain conditions, including surrendering their passports.

A total of 15 people in two states have been charged for their alleged role in this conspiracy.

Father and son, Khalid and Hamza Abbas, along with Abdul Fatani of Richmond and Syed Ali of Sugarland, are facing wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

The men are accused of conspiring to submit 80 false and fraudulent loan applications trying to get $35 million in Paycheck Protection Program forgivable loan funds, according to court documents. Of that, they received $18 million.

According to federal authorities, the men then laundered a portion of the funds by writing checks from companies that received the PPP loans. Then, they wrote checks to fake employees, including themselves and their family members. More than 1,100 fake checks were allegedly cashed at a check cashing company, according to court records.

Out of the four men, 55-year-old Fatani had an attorney present Thursday. He pleaded not guilty.

Fatani's attorney expressed in court that Fatani has been cooperating with authorities for months now. The other three men requested a court appointed attorney.

Khalid, Fatani and Ali are also facing a money laundering charge. If convicted, the defendants face up to 20 years in prison for each count of wire fraud, up to 10 years for each money laundering conviction, and up to 20 years in prison for each count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

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