Indian American from Bakersfield, California pleads guilty to stealing $163,750 Covid-19 relief money


A 50-year-old Indian American Jaswinder Bhangoo of Bakersfield, California pleaded guilty on Tuesday to stealing $163,750 in Covid-19 relief money, U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.

According to court documents, between May 2020 and November 2021, Bhangoo applied for over $250,000 in Covid-19 relief loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

In the applications, Bhangoo falsely represented that he owned multiple businesses with several employees and substantial revenues.

He also represented that he had not been convicted of a felony in the previous five years when, in fact, he had been convicted of insurance fraud. Based on Bhangoo’s false representations, some of his loan applications were approved, and he received approximately $163,750 in federal funds to which he was not entitled.

Talbert said this case was investigated by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brittany M. Gunter and Joseph Barton are prosecuting the case.

Bhangoo is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Ana de Alba on February 20, 2024.

Bhangoo faces a maximum statutory penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.

This effort is part of a California COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Strike Force operation, one of five interagency COVID-19 fraud strike force teams established by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The California Strike Force combines law enforcement and prosecutorial resources in the Eastern and Central Districts of California and focuses on large-scale, multistate pandemic relief fraud perpetrated by criminal organizations and transnational actors.

The strike forces use prosecutor-led and data analyst-driven teams to identify and bring to justice those who stole pandemic relief funds.

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