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May 26, 2022

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Oregon man pleads guilty to stealing COVID-relief money

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PORTLAND — An Oregon man has pleaded guilty in a scheme to steal money intended to help small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to federal prosecutors.

Benjamin Tifekchian, 47, of Portland, on Tuesday pleaded guilty to bank fraud as part of a plea deal, U.S. Attorney Scott Erik Asphaug of the District of Oregon said in a news release.

In 2019, Tifekchian incorporated Bencho Jewelry Inc. in Oregon, was the sole owner and officer, and never generated over $500 in revenue per year, court documents say.

After Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act to provide emergency financial assistance to Americans amid the pandemic, Tifekchian successfully obtained more than $884,000 in a Paycheck Protection Program loan. He falsely claimed Bencho employed 78 people and had an average monthly payroll of $353,698.

Tifekchian used some of the money to pay for gambling and vacations before Bank of America froze the loan funds, suspecting fraud.

His fraudulent applications for Economic Injury Disaster Loans were denied. A federal grand jury in Portland indicted Tifekchian last year on bank fraud and wire fraud charges.

Tifekchian faces a maximum of 30 years in prison. With his continued acceptance of responsibility, the government will recommend Tifekchian be sentenced to at least 21 months in prison. Tifekchian has agreed to pay over $900,000 in restitution.

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