Bounthavong Sonthikoummane and Ashlyn Arcouette indicted for pandemic loan frauds

Vermont Business Magazine The United States Attorney for the District of Vermont has announced that a federal grand jury has indicted Bounthavong Sonthikoummane, 42, and Ashlyn Arcouette, 32, both of White River Junction, Vermont, on fraud charges stemming from four loans they obtained on behalf of businesses during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Sonthikoummane appeared Monday in United States District Court in Burlington and pleaded not guilty to the indictment. United States Magistrate Judge Kevin J. Doyle ordered that Sonthikoummane remain in custody pending another hearing on June 20. Arcouette is to appear in court today for her arraignment. 

On June 12, 2024, a federal grand jury returned an eleven-count indictment against the two defendants. The indictment charges Sonthikoummane with bank fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy, money laundering, and making false statements. 

It charges Arcouette with wire fraud, conspiracy, and money laundering. During the coronavirus pandemic, small business owners had the opportunity to apply for federal loans under two different programs. 

The Economic Injury Disaster Loan program was a pre-existing program established by Congress to provide low-interest loans for businesses that suffered financial hardship because of a natural disaster. The Paycheck Protection Plan loan program was established by Congress in the spring of 2020 as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. 

The CARES Act contained many provisions that were intended to address the medical, economic, and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Paycheck Protection Program was an economic stimulus program intended to help small businesses keep employees on their payroll during the pandemic. It provided billions of dollars in low-interest, unsecured loans that were to be administered through and guaranteed by the U.S. Small Business Administration. 

Applicants had to certify that the loan proceeds would be used to maintain payroll and pay other business-related expenses. If applicants were able to demonstrate that proceeds were used to keep workers employed, part or all of the loan could be forgiven. 

Both the EIDL and PPP loan programs were administered by the Small Business Administration. Applicants had to provide the SBA and lending financial institutions with certain documentation demonstrating their entitlement to and qualifications for EIDL and PPP loans. 

According to the indictment, between July 2020 and February 2021, Sonthikoummane applied for and obtained two PPP and one EIDL loan on behalf of independent contracting businesses he claimed to operate. Arcouette, allegedly with Sonthikoummane’s assistance, applied for an EIDL loan in late July 2020 and it was approved in August. 

According to the indictment, each of the loan applications submitted by the defendants contained materially false and fraudulent statements and representations about the businesses, and in two instances Sonthikoummane allegedly submitted falsified IRS Schedule Cs that contained false financial information about the businesses. 

The three loans obtained by Sonthikoummane totaled more than $117,000; the loan obtained by Arcouette was for $56,900. In late 2020, according to the indictment, Sonthikoummane obtained forgiveness of one PPP loan by falsely certifying that he had used the loan proceeds for business purposes in accordance with loan program rules. 

In fact, according to the indictment, both defendants used most of the loan money to invest in Coinbase, a crypto-currency exchange. 

The indictment also seeks forfeiture of a residence in White River Junction that Sonthikoummane allegedly bought with fraudulently obtained loan proceeds. 

The United States Attorney emphasizes that the charges in the indictment are merely accusations and that the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until they are proven guilty. 

If convicted, the defendants face up to 20 years of imprisonment and fines of up to $250,000. The actual sentences would be determined with reference to federal sentencing guidelines and statutory sentencing factors. 

This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. 

Sonthikoummane is represented by Christoper Dall, Esq. Arcouette is represented by Mark Kaplan, Esq. The prosecutor is Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Waples. 

Addressing pandemic-related fraud is a priority of United States Attorney Nikolas P. Kerest and of the Department of Justice. For information on the Department’s response to the pandemic, please visit https://www.justice.gov/coronavirus. Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form at: https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.

Source: 6.18.2024. Burlington, Vermont – The United States Attorney for the District of Vermont