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Monday, Jun 27, 2022

Encino Man Arrested for Alleged $27 Million PPP Fraud

Robert Benlevi, 52, of Encino, was arrested Thursday for money laundering, bank fraud and false statements on loan applications for Paycheck Protection Program funds.According to the Justice Department, Benlevi submitted 27 bank loan applications between April and June of 2020 on behalf of eight companies he solely owned.Allegedly, he sought $27 million in forgivable PPP loans and falsely reported that each of his companies had 100 employees and an average monthly payroll cost of $400,000. According to the Justice Department, “the companies did not have any employees or payroll expenses.”PPP loans can be used to manage payroll costs and employee benefits and to pay rent, utilities, mortgage protection costs and worker protection costs at companies impacted by COVID-19. The purpose of the funds, according to the Justice Department, is to provide “forgivable loans to small businesses for job retention and certain other expenses.”Three of Benlevi’s companies allegedly obtained $3 million in PPP funds from fraudulent loan applications. The indictment alleges that Benlevi used the funds for cash withdrawals, personal credit card payments and transfers to other personal and business accounts. At one point, Benlevi used cashier’s checks to withdraw $248,000 from Bestways2 Health, one of his businesses.Benlevi is charged with six counts of bank fraud and false statements respectively, as well as four counts of money laundering. He potentially faces decades in federal prison, as every count of bank fraud and false statements carry a maximum penalty of 30 years, while the money laundering counts carry a maximum penalty of 10 years.

Antonio Pequeño IV
Antonio Pequeño IV
Antonio “Tony” Pequeño IV is a reporter covering health care, finance and law for the San Fernando Valley Business Journal. He specializes in reporting on some of the biggest names in the Valley’s biotechnology sector. In addition to his work with the Business Journal, Tony has reported with BuzzFeed News on the unsupervised use of Clearview AI, a controversial facial recognition technology. Tony, who also conducts freelance reporting, graduated from the USC’s Master of Science in Journalism program in 2021. He is in his fifth year as a journalist as of 2021.

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