A NASA employee has agreed to plead guilty to defrauding the federal government by using more than $150,000 in COVID-19 relief money to fund an illegal marijuana grow operation, according tothe Justice Department.
The U.S. attorney's office for the central district of California announced Monday that Armen Hovanesian admitted to lying to the government on loan applications about how he would use the proceeds from the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program, which was intended to provide support to people and businesses throughout the pandemic. Hovanesian was working at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, at the time.
According to the plea agreement, Hovanesian submitted three loan applications between June 2020 and October 2020 and received $151,900 in relief funds. Authorities said he certified on those applications that he would use "all the proceeds" to alleviate economic injury caused by the pandemic.
"Hovanesian instead applied those proceeds toward his own prohibited personal benefit to repay a personal real-estate debt and fund his illegal marijuana cultivation," the Justice Department said in a statement.
Authorities said he also made fraudulent statements about the gross revenues each of his businesses had generated the previous year.
Hovanesian faces one count of wire fraud and faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison. He is expected to make his initial court appearance on Aug. 11.
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