Indian-American dentist pleads guilty to stealing half-a-million in COVID-19 relief money; faces 10 years in jail

An Indian-American dentist, with his practice in California, has pleaded guilty to stealing USD500,000 in COVID-19 relief money for two years and using it for improper personal expenditures, such as investments, said an official statement from the Department of Justice.

Ranjan Rajbanshi received more than USD850,000 in COVID-19 relief money to support his practice, but misused most of it for personal expenses. Photo courtesy: Pixabay/QuinceCreative

Ranjan Rajbanshi, 46, received more than USD850,000 in COVID-19 relief money from April 2020 to February 2022 from the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for specified business purposes, such as facility costs, payroll, and protective equipment for him and his staff.

Yesterday, Rajbanshi pleaded guilty to using half a million dollars from that relief money for improper personal expenditures such as investments, the Department of Justice said.

The dentist has agreed to pay that money back to the government before his sentencing.

The case came to light after the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the SBA Office of Inspector General, and HHS Office of Inspector General conducted an investigation, the press release said.

Rajbanshi faces a maximum statutory penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of USD250,000. He is scheduled to be sentenced by a US District Judge on December 4.

Set up in 2021, the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force bolsters efforts to investigate and prosecute the most culpable domestic and international criminal actors.

It was set up to enhance efforts to combat and prevent pandemic-related fraud and assists agencies tasked with administering relief programmes to prevent the same.