Four men convicted after establishing a fake country in an attempt to steal more than $9.5 million in COVID-19 relief funds will now spend years in prison, federal officials said.
Aziz Hassan Bey, Letez Osiris Bey, Minister Zakar Ali and Divine-Seven El were convicted of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud and mail fraud in October, court documents show. Aziz Bey and El were also convicted of money laundering, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The men resided across multiple states — Wisconsin, Illinois, Maryland and Florida — but established the Al Moroc Consulate at a duplex in Milwaukee, according to court documents. The fake country was established in 2018.
Al Moroc is not registered with the U.S. Department of State, according to the indictment.
From June 2020 through July 2021, the four men filed fraudulent applications for Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) through the Small Business Administration and Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans through private lenders, court documents show. The federal programs were established to help Americans during the pandemic.
Various prison sentences were doled out Feb. 1 in the Eastern District of Wisconsin. Letez Bey was given the shortest sentence of approximately 6.5 years, while El was given the longest sentence of 12.5 years. Aziz Bey was sentenced to nearly nine years, and Ali was sentenced to about 11.5 years, documents show.
“This fraud scheme was dismantled through excellent collaboration between the FBI and our law enforcement partners,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Michael E. Hensle said.
Attorneys for the four defendants did not immediately respond to McClatchy News’ request for comment Feb. 5.
Applications claimed Al Moroc was a functional and operating business and the loans would be used to cover expenses, according to the indictment. The men also misrepresented the number of employees and various expenses and revenues, prosecutors said.
The group used some of the hundreds of thousands of dollars received to distribute among themselves and purchase luxury vehicles and jewelry, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
Aziz Bey and El purchased luxury cars, such as a Maserati and a Porsche, and wrote checks between $40,000 and $60,000 to themselves, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Overall, prosecutors say the group pocketed about $775,000 between EIDC and PPP loans, .
Aziz Bey, Ali and El also defrauded state unemployment insurance and the Wisconsin Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), according to court documents.
Letez Bey filed unemployment claims and obtained hundreds of thousands of dollars, the U.S. Attorney’s office said.
Aziz Bey, Ali and El submitted false information, claiming they no longer owed money to lenders on a Land Rover, BMW and Corvette to the Wisconsin DMV, according to court documents. They were able to keep or sell the cars without repaying loans, the U.S. attorney’s office said.
“The jury’s verdict reflects the fact these defendants sought to enrich themselves at the expense of taxpayers across the country,” U.S. Attorney Haanstad said in a news release. “In addition to fraud targeting private businesses, they sought to take unlawful advantage of programs meant to help individuals, businesses, and the entire economy survive the impact of the pandemic.”