NASA employee admits to defrauding COVID-19 programs to fund illegal weed operation

NASA employee admits to defrauding COVID-19 programs to fund illegal weed operation

An employee at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena has admitted to defrauding pandemic-era protection programs aimed to help business and individuals survive the economic downturn caused by COVID-19.

Armen Hovanesian, 32, of Glendale, agreed to plead guilty to defrauding a government sponsored loan plan in 2020, admitting to using some of the fraudulently obtained cash to fund an illegal marijuana cultivation operation.

Hovanesian works as a cost-control and budget-planning resource analyst for the JPL, which is a federally funded research lab for NASA, according to the United States Department of Justice.

From June 2020 to October 2020, Hovanesian submitted three loan applications to the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program for businesses he operated. The program provided low-interest financing to small businesses, renters and homeowners affected by disasters, including the coronavirus pandemic.

As part of his plea agreement, he admitted to making false and fraudulent statements when applying for the loans, including lying about each business’s revenue from the previous year, as well as making “false and fraudulent” statements regarding what he planned to do with the money if approved for the loans.

Hovanesian declared he would use all the proceeds to keep his businesses afloat, but instead he used the money to pay off a real estate debt and fund his illegal cultivation of marijuana, the DOJ said.

In total, Hovanesian received $151,900 through the scheme.

He agreed to plead guilty to one felony count of wire fraud, which could land him a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.

The plea agreement was drafted last week and Hovanesian is scheduled to appear in court on Aug. 11.

Hovanesian’s plea comes as part of the nation’s ongoing fight to identify and charge scammers who defrauded the COVID-era protection programs. The United States Attorney General established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force in May 2021, and hundreds of alleged fraudsters have been charged as part of the task force’s work.

Anyone with information about any fraud involving COVID-19 programs is urged to file a report with the DOJ’s National Center for Disaster Fraud online or by calling the hotline at 866-720-5721.

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