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Houston man stole more than $1.1 million through COVID-19 relief fund fraud, DOJ says

He allegedly submitted fraudulent PPP loan applications on behalf of Texas Barbecue and Houston Landscaping, investigators said.

HOUSTON — A Houston man accused of stealing more than $1.1 million from the federal COVID-19 relief program for small business has been arrested, the Department of Justice announced Tuesday.

Joshua Thomas Argires, 29, is charged with making false statements to a financial institution, wire fraud, bank fraud and engaging in unlawful monetary transactions.

The money was reportedly taken from the Paycheck Protection Program, which issues forgivable loans to small businesses and organizations that are unable to meet payroll costs, rent and other capital expenses due to the coronavirus pandemic. The program is supported by the CARES act.

Officials said the suspect submitted fraudulent loan applications on behalf of Texas Barbecue and Houston Landscaping, claiming both businesses' numerous employees and hundreds of thousands in payroll expenses.

Investigators allegedly found neither company had employees or paid wages reported on the PPP loan applications.

Prosecutors said both loans were funded, but none of the money went to payroll or other expenses authorized under the relief program. Instead, investigators said Argires invested the money given to Texas Barbecue in a cryptocurrency bank account. The Houston Landscaping funds were slowly taken out through ATM withdrawals, according to the charges.

Multiple government agencies participated in the investigation including the Federal Housing Finance Agency - Office of the Inspector General and Postal Inspection Service’s Houston Division.


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