ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A Senior Executive Service (SES) employee of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was sentenced today to 18 months in prison for submitting fraudulent applications for over $350,000 in COVID-19 economic relief loans and benefits.
“While serving in a high-ranking position at NASA, this defendant used the identities of others to carry out a brazen scheme in which he exploited taxpayer-funded programs during the global pandemic for his own personal benefit,” said Raj Parekh, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “This case serves as another example of EDVA’s commitment to pursuing justice against those who attempt to take advantage of essential programs that are intended for deserving community members.”
According to court documents, Andrew Tezna, 36, of Leesburg, fraudulently submitted three loan applications to two financial institutions totaling $272,284, under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a federal initiative designed to help businesses pay their employees and meet their basic expenses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Tezna also submitted two Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program applications to the Small Business Administration totaling $69,500, and he applied for COVID-related unemployment benefits, totaling $15,950, from Virginia, ostensibly for his mother-in-law, who was retired and did not qualify for the benefits. In support of the fraudulent PPP loan applications, Tezna submitted fabricated IRS tax returns and fraudulently claimed payroll expenses that did not exist.
Tezna successfully obtained over $285,000 from the PPP loans and unemployment benefits. The bulk of the money came from PPP loans applied for in his and his mother-in-law’s names for businesses that did not exist. He then spent the funds, among other things, to pay off a personal loan for a residential pool, a personal loan for a minivan, personally incurred credit card debt, a down payment on a new car, and a dog-breeder. In addition, Tezna also admitted to filing a false Financial Disclosure Report with NASA.
“Tezna made fraudulent representations to obtain funds from COVID-19 relief programs designed to aid businesses and individuals that were struggling as a result of the pandemic. In doing so, he stole funds from American taxpayers that he ultimately used to pay down personal debt and purchase luxury items,” said Special Agent in Charge Mark J. Zielinski, NASA Office of Inspector General, Eastern Field Office. “Today’s sentencing should serve as a deterrent to all those trying to game the system for personal gratification.”
“COVID-19 relief programs are not meant to be used for paying off personal indulgences. Tezna, despite having an executive position, stole funds from the government meant to aid struggling businesses during the pandemic. Today, the penalties of his actions were realized,” said Darrell J. Waldon, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) Washington D.C. Field Office.
In addition to the 18 months of imprisonment, Tezna was sentenced to 3 years of supervised release and $285,449.11 of restitution and forfeiture.
Raj Parekh, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Darrell J. Waldon, Acting Special Agent in Charge, Washington, D.C. Field Office, IRS-CI; and Mark J. Zielinski, Special Agent in Charge, NASA Office of Inspector General, Eastern Field Office, made the announcement after sentencing by Senior U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kimberly M. Shartar and Jamar K. Walker prosecuted the case.
On May 17, 2021, Attorney General Merrick Garland established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force, led by the Deputy Attorney General, to bring together the full resources of the federal government to bolster fraud enforcement efforts. If you think you are a victim of a scam or attempted fraud involving COVID-19, contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Members of the public in the Eastern District of Virginia are encouraged to call 804-819-5416, or email USAVAE.COVID19@USDOJ.GOV to reach their local Coronavirus Fraud Coordinator.A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information are located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 1:21-cr-77.