Man charged with obtaining millions in COVID-19 relief funds by listing celebrities as employees, buying $200,000 Mercedes

  • Sheng-Wen Cheng, a New York resident, has been charged with fraudulently applying for more than $7 million in COVID-19 relief funds, the US Department of Justice said on Tuesday.
  • The complaint against Cheng alleges that he claimed to employ more than 200 people, and submitted a fraudulent payroll summary that listed athletes, actors, television anchors, and other celebrities as his employees. 
  • Cheng received $2.8 million from the US government, the complaint said, and spent hundreds of thousands on designer labels, a luxury condo, and a Mercedes-Maybach sedan. 
  • Cheng also isn't the first to be accused of spending COVID-19 relief funds on extravagant car purchases. Others were charged with buying new Lamborghinis, as well as a new Kia Stinger.
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A New York-based, self-proclaimed "serial entrepreneur" has been arrested and charged with fraudulently applying for more than $7 million in COVID-19 relief funds through the US government, the Department of Justice announced Tuesday.

Said entrepreneur listed famous people as fake employees on his payroll, the criminal complaint against him claims, and promptly spent hundreds of thousands on a new Mercedes, designer labels, and a condo renting for $17,000 per month. 

The criminal complaint alleges that Sheng-Wen Cheng, also known as Justin Cheng and Justin Jung, falsely claimed that his multiple companies employed more than 200 people and that his payroll expenses totaled more than $1.5 million per month. In reality, the allegations say, Cheng's companies "appear to have a total of no more than 14 employees."

The complaint, via the DOJ, claims that Cheng duped the Small Business Administration by submitting doctored tax forms and payroll documents, going so far as to send in a payroll summary for one of his companies that "listed the names of more than 90 purported employees, several of whom are current and former athletes, artists, actors, and public figures."

"For example, the list of purported employee names included 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.

As of August 13, the SBA had approved more than $3.7 million in Paycheck Protection Program funds for Cheng's companies and had doled out roughly $2.8 million to Cheng's bank accounts. 

Rather than spending the money on approved expenses, the complaint alleges that Cheng sent more than $880,000 to international accounts, withdrew about $360,000 in the form of cash and cashier's checks, and spent more than $275,000 on personal expenses. 

Those expenses included an 18-carat-gold Rolex for roughly $40,000, rent and furnishings for a $17,000-per-month luxury condo, and around $37,000 worth of designer goods from Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, and others. Cheng also allegedly put $80,000 toward the purchase of a 2020 Mercedes-Maybach S560 sedan, which retails for at least $173,000 when new. Wouldn't want to raise any eyebrows by paying the balance outright, after all.

Cheng isn't the first person to be accused of spending COVID-19 relief funds on extravagant car purchases. In the past few weeks alone, the DOJ said multiple men have been charged with similar things: one with a Lamborghini Urus SUV; one with a Lamborghini Huracan; and one with a Kia Stinger, perhaps to add a little modesty to the yacht purchase was also said to have made.

Cheng faces charges including bank fraud, wire fraud, and making false statements to a bank, each of which carries a maximum prison sentence of 30 years. A lawyer representing Cheng could not immediately be reached for comment.

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