Californian sentenced for $27M phony COVID aid attempt

A Southern California man who tried to obtain $27 million in unemployment benefits by falsely claiming his business was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic was sentenced Tuesday to more than 11 years in federal prison.

Robert Benlevi, 53, of Encino, received a 135-month sentence following his March conviction for bank fraud, money laundering and making false statements to a financial institution, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement.

In 2020, Benlevi submitted 27 applications for forgivable loans under the Paycheck Protection Program, prosecutors said.

The applications to four banks were made on behalf of eight companies that Benlevi owned. Benlevi claimed that each company had 100 employees and an average monthly payroll of $400,000 "even though he knew that the companies did not have any employees or payroll expenses," the DOJ said.

Benlevi sought $27 million in funding to meet expenses and received $3 million that he spent on personal expenses, authorities said.