CLT restaurant owner, son convicted of pandemic relief fraud

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Izzat Freitekh, owner of La Shish Kabob on North Sharon Amity Road, was found guilty by a federal jury in Charlotte on March 17, 2022 of unlawfully receiving $1.7 million in pandemic relief loans.

Observer file photo

Some of Tarik Freitekh’s final moments as a free man on Thursday were chaotic.

Moments after a federal jury in Charlotte convicted the 34-year-old of helping to steal $1.7 million from pandemic taxpayers, prosecutors announced they consider the Californian a risk of leaker who should be imprisoned until sentenced.

At the defense table, a suddenly struggling Freitekh asked attorney Stephen Lindsay if he could take off his coat. Lindsay said her client’s arms were drenched in sweat. Freitekh took a bottle of water to drink, Lindsay said, but unwittingly doused himself instead.

Then Freitekh passed out, his head crashing into the table in front of him.

“Someone call 911,” his wife shouted from the viewing gallery, according to people present.

Sitting nearby, Charlotte’s attorney Michael Greene said he saw Freitekh sway in his chair and saw his eyes roll back. “Is he still breathing?” Greene said he asked the U.S. Marshals.

Freitakh, after being treated by doctors who rushed into the courtroom, recovered. But 30 minutes after he collapsed, U.S. District Judge Frank Whitney ordered him held pending sentencing. It could take six months or more.

The upheaval at the defense table brought a dramatic end to an 18-month investigation in which Freitekh and his father, well-known East Charlotte restaurateur Izzat Freitekh, were convicted of defrauding loans from the COVID relief plan for small businesses, Paycheck Protection Program or PPP.

The six-day trial was one of the first in the country involving pandemic-related financial fraud, a criminal epidemic that has siphoned off hundreds of millions of dollars nationwide from government aid.

Young Freitekh had the worst of the local verdict. He was found guilty of bank fraud, money laundering, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering, as well as falsifying and concealing material facts. He faces a maximum combined sentence of more than 60 years in prison.

Her father, owner of the popular Middle Eastern restaurant La Shish Kabob on North Sharon Amity Road, was found guilty of three counts of money laundering, conspiracy to launder money and one count of making false statements. Each charge of bank fraud carries a maximum sentence of 10 years. The jury found the elder Freitekh not guilty of several of the most serious charges directly related to the conspiracy.

US attorney Dena King sounded almost biblical in her reaction to the verdict, accusing the Freitekhs of exploiting a national emergency.

“The bad guys borrow and don’t repay,” she said in a statement released after the trial, “but in the case of the Freitekhs, they also lie to cover up the fraud.”

Rob Heroy, Izzat Freitekh’s co-counsel with Greene, welcomed the jury’s decision not to convict his client of direct PPP fraud, but added, “This is a very difficult time for the family, and he will continue to work in the restaurant every day. because he still has to keep his life as normal as it can be.

Lindsay, of Asheville, said Friday he had no intention of criticizing the jurors but remained confused by their verdict. He said all of the PPP money in question went to the father’s businesses and none to Tariq, but the son was convicted of the most serious crimes.

“From what I can tell, the restaurant has qualified for legitimate PPP loans. Unless it’s a Robin Hood type thing, it really doesn’t matter. meaning to get the loans fraudulently,” Lindsay told the Observer.

“I would like to know what the jurors thought… It’s just a real headache of a case.”

Prosecutor attacked as ‘racist’

The Freitekhs were arrested a week before Christmas in 2020. Their indictment claims Tariq filed multiple PPP loan applications for his father’s businesses, including La Shish Kabob, using inflated payroll and labor figures. ‘use. The federal government claims to have recovered $1.3 million of what the father and son stole.

The case was very unusual almost from the start. For months before the trial, the Freitekhs’ first financial crimes prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jenny Sugar of Charlotte, faced a series of online attacks accusing her of being an unfair racist to La Shish Kabob.

Sugar eventually left the case. Lia Bantavani, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte, declined to say why. But Bantavani said an investigation into what she described as “the disinformation campaign” targeting Sugar is continuing. Veteran attorneys say they’ve never seen a Charlotte prosecutor treated like this before.

Furthermore, when the government later accused the Freitekhs of filing fraudulent documents to bolster their defence, the government took the unusual step of subpoenaing attorneys for the then defendants, Chris Fialko and Preston. Odom, as prosecution witnesses. Although the attorneys were not charged with any wrongdoing, Whitney ordered them to testify. Both Fialko and Odom left the case.

“This damn thing has gone crazy as hell,” Greene said of the procedure.

The Freitekhs offered a study in contrast. At one point during the trial, an Internal Revenue Service investigator testified how much he enjoyed the food at La Shish Kabob, a trial observer said.

On the day of his arrest in 2020, Izzat Freitekh expressed confidence in the outcome of his case. “We trust the courts. We trust the judges in Charlotte and across the country,” he told the Observer in a phone call to his restaurant. “You should wait until the end of the story when the judge says to me, ‘You were right. You are not guilty.

On Friday, after his sentencing, Izzat Freitekh again answered the phone at La Shish Kabob. He begged for comment until he spoke to his lawyers. But he added: “I respect what happened.”

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Online reports describe Tariq as a Los Angeles-based businessman and producer with a $7 million home and a line of luxury cars. In various photos, he is shown neck and neck with Justin Bieber and Sofia Vergara.

Just before 4 p.m., a new photo joined his online gallery. Tariq Freitekh had been incarcerated in Mecklenburg County Jail.

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After Tariq Freitekh was found guilty of pandemic loan fraud, a judge ordered him held in Mecklenburg County Jail until sentencing. Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office

This story was originally published March 19, 2022 10:13 a.m.

Michael Gordon has been the Observer’s legal affairs editor since 2013. He has been the newspaper’s editor and reporter since 1992, writing occasionally on schools, religion, politics and sports. He spent two summers as “Bikin Mike,” writing stories as he cycled through the Carolinas.

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