CALIFORNIA— A San Fernando Valley man was charged on Monday, August 10 for allegedly obtaining $1.7 million in COVID-relief funds through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). He is now believed to have fled the United States.

Arman Manukyan, 49, of Panorama City faces criminal charges with “one count of bank fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office Central District of California. 

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was designed to provide emergency financial assistance to millions of Americans who are suffering the economic effects resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. The legislation authorizes up to $349 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses for job retention and certain other expenses through the PPP. President Donald Trump signed the relief measure earlier this year on March 27. 

In June, Manukyan submitted two applications for PPP loans to Bank of America for $1.7 million on behalf of two ‘Shell’ companies registered in his name (Argo Global, Inc., and Express Wiring), according to an affidavit. Manukyan managed to get an approved loan in the amount of $867,187 for Argo Global, Inc. despite allegedly submitting false tax documents purporting to show wages and taxes for the company. 

According to the affidavit, these documents did not include a list of employees or associates for Argo Global, which Manukyan allegedly claimed to be a sewing business with 73 employees, and which listed a virtual office address in Beverly Hills as its place of business. 

A bank investigator contacted Manukyan after one of his accounts had been frozen because of suspicious activity. He allegedly transferred most of the $867,187 balance to two of his personal bank accounts. Manukyan allegedly told the investigator he was going to “use the PPP loan to start a limousine business, contradicting what he wrote on his loan application,” according to the affidavit. 

For Express Wiring, a ‘Shell’ company with a Glendale address, Manukyan also allegedly submitted a loan application of $884,748 in June. According to the affidavit, “the Small Business Administration rejected the application, indicating it either had been submitted after the June 22 deadline for PPP loans or the allocated PPP funds had run out.”

Law enforcement found multiple debit cards used for unemployment benefits from the California Employment Development Department (EDD) that were in the names of different people during a July 22 search at Manukyan’s home. Manukyan allegedly told law enforcement that he never used the EDD cards and that he had found them on the street.  

Investigators recovered $866,019 from Manukyan’s bank accounts doing a July seizure, as well as an additional $118,474 from debit cards linked to his name. Manukyan would face a statutory maximum sentence of 32 years in federal prison if convicted of the charges. 

According to the affidavit, law enforcement received information on August 9 that Manukyan had possibly boarded a flight from Mexico City inbound to Paris with a final destination of Minsk, Belarus.