Brighton food truck operator charged with pandemic fraud; used federal grants aimed at keeping his business afloat to gamble on the stock market, feds say

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A Brighton man who operates Boston-area food trucks has used more than $1.5 million in federal pandemic relief funds to bet on the stock market, rather than paying workers and d other steps to keep his business afloat, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, in a wire fraud complaint filed yesterday in federal court in Boston.

According to an affidavit from an FBI agent on the case, Loc Vo, 55, received money from the Economic Disaster Loan Program, the Paycheck Protection Program and the Labor Revitalization Fund. restaurants for his company Smart Gourmet, based on his statements that Smart Gourmet had gross revenue of $1.6 million in 2019 and had approximately 20 employees. All three funds were intended to help small businesses survive the pandemic by giving recipients money to pay their business bills and payroll. The restaurant fund, from which Vo got $967,000, was intended to help with general business costs, but also with restaurant-specific expenses, such as the cost of food, equipment and even seating at the outside.

But instead of putting the money into Smart Gourmet, the affidavit says, Vo quickly transferred most of the funds to E-Trade and Robinhood accounts which he then used to buy shares in biotech, web and financial services, electric cars and games.

In addition to loans and grants to Smart Gourmet, the affidavit states that Vo also secured a PPP grant for a Virginia company that he said had 14 employees, although it disappeared in 2002, according to the affidavit. which indicates that when he got this money, he transferred it to a Smart Gourmet account.

As an example of what he did, the affidavit states that on July 1, 2020, the SBA wired $149,900 in EIDL funds—supposed to be his company’s working capital—to the Bank of America account. of Vo. On July 3 and 6, Vo transferred $143,000 to an E-Trade account. Later on July 6, the affidavit says Vo used the E-Trade account to buy $115,000 worth of stock in a biotech company.

The affidavit says that when officers interviewed Vo in December, he told them that many of the payments he made to his 20 employees were not reflected in his bookkeeping or tax filings and that he used the federal pandemic payments largely to repay his family and friends in Vietnam who had lent him money to keep his business afloat. The FBI agent did not believe this:

My review of Vo’s E-Trade and Robinhood account records mostly show trading activity that began after the accounts received PPP and other pandemic funds. Contrary to Vo’s statement to investigators, he shows no withdrawal activity consistent with refunding to others.

innocent, etc.

Full Affidavit (4.2 MB PDF).

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