San Diego Restaurant Owner Faces Serious Charges in Tax and COVID-19 Relief Fraud Case

A federal grand jury in San Diego has brought forward a superseding indictment against Leronce Suel, a prominent restaurant owner in California. On February 2, 2024, Suel was charged with a series of grave offenses, including wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, tax evasion, filing false tax returns, conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and failing to file tax returns.

Suel, the majority owner of Rockstar Dough LLC and Chicken Feed LLC—both restaurant operations based in San Diego—is accused of underreporting over $1.7 million in gross receipts on Rockstar Dough LLC’s 2020 corporate tax return. This alleged underreporting forms the basis of further accusations that Suel and his business partner used the falsified documents to secure COVID-19 relief funds through the Paycheck Protection Program and Restaurant Revitalization Funding loans.

The indictment details that from March 2020 to June 2022, Suel and his accomplice purportedly used the fraudulently obtained loans under false pretenses, claiming the funds were used exclusively for payroll purposes. Additionally, it is alleged they made substantial cash withdrawals to launder the illicit funds and concealed over $2.4 million in cash at their residence.

Moreover, Suel is accused of not reporting personal income derived from his businesses, which included millions in cash and personal expenses paid for by the companies, such as home rent. The indictment also claims that in 2023, Suel filed both original and amended tax returns for previous years, falsely declaring depreciable assets and business losses.

The charges against Suel carry severe potential penalties, with the maximum reaching up to 30 years in prison for each count of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, among other significant sentences for the additional charges. The final sentence will be determined by a federal district court judge, taking into consideration the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

This case is a stark reminder to small business owners of the critical importance of maintaining strict adherence to legal and financial regulations, especially when navigating government relief programs designed to aid businesses during times of crisis. The Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Stuart M. Goldberg of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney Tara K. McGrath for the Southern District of California have underscored the seriousness of the allegations, with the case being investigated by the IRS Criminal Investigation unit.

For small business owners, the unfolding of this case highlights the imperative need for transparency and honesty in all financial dealings, particularly in the utilization of government-provided funds. The legal proceedings against Suel serve as a cautionary tale, emphasizing the potential consequences of fraudulent activities.

As the legal process progresses, it’s important to remember that an indictment is merely an allegation, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. This case undeniably sets a precedent for how fraud, especially related to COVID-19 relief funds, is handled legally, sending a clear message about the federal government’s stance on financial dishonesty and fraud.

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Joshua Sophy Joshua Sophy is the Editor for Small Business Trends and has been a member of the team for 16 years. A professional journalist with 20 years of experience in traditional media and online media, he attended Waynesburg University and is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists. He has held roles of reporter, editor and publisher, having founded his own local newspaper, the Pottsville Free Press.

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