FLORENCE, S.C. (WBTW) — A Florence couple arrested after an FBI investigation Thursday is now accused of committing pandemic fraud, among other crimes.
Mohammad Ribhi Farraj and Nariman Mahmoud Masoud, who are married, will be given a detention hearing on Tuesday, according to an indictment unsealed Friday. Masoud was given a $25,000 bond.
Prosecutors said in court Friday that the couple poses a flight risk if they are released together.
Both have pled not guilty to financial crimes related to pandemic fraud, identity theft and money laundering. They’re accused of stealing more than $500,000.
Farraj, owns Lakeside Financial Group, Inc., which is registered in Florida, according to court documents. The couple intended to “fraudulently enrich themselves by filing and receiving fraudulent claims” and receive pandemic benefits in New York, Florida and South Carolina by using other people’s identities. The funds were received mostly by prepaid debit cards.
They obtained people’s identification without their knowledge or consent, would submit false claims using that information and then used debit cards with pandemic funds loaded onto them to withdraw money from ATMs, according to the documents. They then used the proceeds to continue the scheme.
The U.S. Treasury deposited $149,900 in relief funds to Lakeside Financial Group on Sept. 2, 2020, according to the documents. Authorities said the business was created on the same day that Farraj submitted the relief fund application. Over the next few months, he transferred those funds into a personal checking account, into Masoud’s account and into a separate business account.
The money deposited into Farraj’s account was then used to make credit card payments and was used to transfer money into cryptocurrency accounts, according to court documents.
On April 9, 2021, Farraj transferred more than $10,000 of the illegally obtained funds, and wired $15,000 from Lakeside Financial Group’s business account, according to the documents.
Authorities are asking for the couple to forfeit any property they illegally obtained, if they are convicted. That includes property located at 203 Hwy 301 South in Dillon. Google Maps identifies the location as a gas station. Farraj owns 301 South Corp, which is registered at that location, according to the South Carolina Secretary of State’s business entity search.
An FBI investigation was underway Thursday in the area of Millbank Drive and Edgeware Court in Florence. Residents in the area at the time told News13 that there were FBI and SWAT vehicles at the scene.