Sentencing postponed for ex-JPL employee who defrauded COVID relief loans

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) clean room workers gather near a propulsion component (L) for the Europa Clipper spacecraft as it is prepared inside a Spacecraft Assembly Facility clean room at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) on April 11, 2023 in Pasadena, California. Photo credit Mario Tama/Getty Images

A sentencing hearing was postponed Monday until Feb. 26 for an ex-employee of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena who used federal COVID-19 relief loans to pay off his real estate debt and fund an illegal marijuana cultivation project.

Armen Hovanesian, 32, who worked as a cost-control and budget-planning resource analyst for JPL, pleaded guilty in August to a single federal count of wire fraud, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

For four months beginning in June 2020, the Glendale man submitted three loan applications in the names of business entities under his control to the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program, which was administered by the Small Business Administration that provided low-interest financing to small businesses, renters, and homeowners in regions affected by declared disasters, including businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hovanesian admitted to lying in the applications about the gross revenues each of the businesses had generated in the preceding year as well as his intended use of the loan proceeds.

The defendant certified to the SBA under penalty of perjury that he would use all the proceeds of the loans for which he applied and caused others to apply for "solely as working capital to alleviate economic injury caused by disaster" consistent with the terms of the program, according to papers filed in Los Angeles federal court.

Hovanesian instead used those proceeds to repay a personal real estate debt and fund illegal marijuana cultivation, he admitted. Hovanesian caused the SBA to transfer federal proceeds totaling $151,900, according to the DOJ.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images