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East Elmhurst man sentenced to prison for stealing $1 Million in pandemic relief funds: DA

Queens DA Melinda Katz said an East Elmhurst man was sentenced to a maximum of three years in prison for scamming the feds out of more than $1 million in pandemic relief funds. File photo by Mark Hallum

Jan. 26, 2024 By Bill Parry

An East Elmhurst resident, Papa Diakhate, has been sentenced to a maximum of three years in prison for orchestrating a scheme that involved stealing over $1 million in federal pandemic relief funds through two fraudulent companies based in Jamaica.

Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz made the announcement Friday. Diakhate, 54, of Astoria Boulevard, pleaded guilty to one count of grand larceny in December.

According to the charges, Diakhate submitted fraudulent loan applications for the Federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) on behalf of two fictitious businesses, falsely designating himself as the sole owner and claiming they were situated at 162-02 Jamaica Ave. Both of these applications were approved.

Between June 29, 2020, and July 14, 2020, approximately $1.2 million was deposited into Diakhate’s Citibank business accounts. Diakhate, then spent this ill-gotten money on personal indulgences, which included a $14,000 Rolex watch, a $36,874 shopping spree on Amazon, $16,461 at Saks Fifth Avenue, $15,377 at Bergdorf Goodman, $13,626 at Bloomingdale’s, and a hefty $56,247 on travel.

Before Citibank intervened and revoked the loans, Diakhate had already squandered more than $350,000 on these personal expenditures, in direct violation of the loan agreement terms that mandated the funds be used exclusively for business operations. These funds were meant to help retain employees, maintain payroll, or cover essential expenses such as mortgages, leases, and utilities during the pandemic.

“As the height of the pandemic wrought devastating human and economic tolls around the world, especially here in New York,” stated Katz, “the defendant seized an opportunity and shamelessly schemed to profit from the financial hardships inflicted by Covid. He is now being held accountable for his thievery.”

Queens Supreme Court Justice Jerry Iannece handed down a sentence of one to three years in prison to Diakhate.

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