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JPL Employee to Plead Guilty to Defrauding COVID Relief Program

Published on Monday, November 20, 2023 | 4:00 am

An employee of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena accused of using federal COVID-19 relief loans to pay off his real estate debt and help fund an illegal marijuana cultivation project is expected to plead guilty Monday to a felony charge.

Armen Hovanesian, 32, of Glendale, who worked as a cost-control and budget-planning resource analyst for JPL, has agreed to plead guilty to a single federal count of wire fraud, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

After he pleads guilty, Hovanesian will face a sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, prosecutors noted.

Hovanesian’s plea agreement states that from June 2020 to October 2020, he submitted three loan applications in the names of business entities under his control to the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program, a program administered by the Small Business Administration that provided low-interest financing to small businesses, renters, and homeowners in regions affected by declared disasters, including businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hovanesian admitted to lying in the applications about the gross revenues each of the businesses had generated in the preceding year as well as his intended use of the loan proceeds.

The defendant certified to the SBA under penalty of perjury that he would “use all the proceeds” of the loans for which he applied and caused others to apply for “solely as working capital to alleviate economic injury caused by disaster” consistent with the terms and limitations of the EIDL program, federal prosecutors allege.

But Hovanesian instead allegedly applied those proceeds toward his own prohibited personal benefit to repay a personal real estate debt and fund his illegal marijuana cultivation. Hovanesian fraudulently caused the SBA to transfer via interstate wire EIDL proceeds totaling $151,900, according to the DOJ.

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