A 24-year-old self-proclaimed “serial entrepreneur” is accused of fraudulently applying for more than $7 million in federal payroll funds by claiming his Manhattan companies employed more than 200 staffers, the Department of Justice announced Tuesday.
Sheng-Wen Cheng, 24, is charged with several counts of fraud, including major fraud against the United States, wire fraud, and bank fraud, as well as one count of aggravated identity theft for forging the electronic signature of a payroll company employee in payroll documents provided to financial institutions.
In the criminal complaint unsealed Tuesday in Manhattan federal court, the DOJ said Cheng claimed he ran five companies with a monthly $1.5 million payroll, and submitted paperwork for the Payroll Protection Program loans that included a list of more than 90 staffers including “current and former athletes, artists, actors, and public figures” including “a co-anchor on Good Morning America, a former National Football League player, and a prominent Penn State football coach who is now deceased,” the DOJ said. In reality, Cheng’s companies employed 14 people.
The PPP loans were established by the U.S. Small Business Administration to cover payroll costs and other expenses during the pandemic.
A citizen of Taiwan who was in America on a student visa that expired in June, Cheng also allegedly used the aliases “Justin Cheng,” a/k/a “Justin Jung,” and the identities of other individuals in his PPP applications. Cheng’s purported companies were consulting and microfinance firms named Alchemy Finance, Inc., Alchemy Guarantor LLC d/b/a “Celer Offer,” Celeri Network Inc., Celeri Treasury LLC, and Wynston York LLC, the DOJ said.
In his application, Cheng allegedly submitted “fraudulent and doctored tax records that were never actually filed with the IRS, and payroll records containing the forged electronic signature of a payroll company employee,” the DOJ said.
His alleged ruse worked for a time -- Cheng was approved for $3.7 million in PPP loans and had received $2.8 million before his arrest Tuesday. Of the disbursed money, the DOJ said he transferred more than $880,000 abroad, withdrew about $360,000 in cash and/or cashier’s checks, and spent more than $275,000 including purchasing a $40,000 18-carat gold Rolex watch, renting a $17,000-a-month luxury condo, and a Maybach S560 sedan, the DOJ said.
“At a time when so many small businesses and their employees are facing dire financial straits, Sheng-Wen Cheng allegedly saw not an emergency lifeline but a gravy train,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss in a release.
Cheng faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted on the top counts.