Florence couple set to plead guilty in COVID-19 fraud scheme, change of plea hearing scheduled

Mohammad Farraj, Nariman Masoud
Mohammad Farraj, Nariman Masoud(Source: Florence County Detention Center)
Published: Nov. 30, 2022 at 12:16 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 1, 2022 at 5:43 PM EST
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FLORENCE, S.C. (WMBF) – A Florence couple accused of taking money meant for those struggling to pay their bills during the COVID-19 pandemic will be changing their pleas next week.

Mohammad Farraj and Nariman Masoud were arrested in March 2022 during an FBI operation. The two face several federal charges including fraud by wire, radio or television and fraud with identification documents.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Derek Shoemake confirmed the couple will be entering guilty pleas next week.

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The charges stem from two alleged schemes.

An indictment claims that in the first scheme, the two would steal the identities of people who never applied for pandemic-related unemployment benefits, then would get the benefits on a credit card and withdraw money

The second suspected scheme involved an Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL), which was provided by the Small Business Administration to help businesses that were negatively impacted by the pandemic.

The indictment claims that the defendants put money into a company that wasn’t in operation and funneled that money to a company that was in operation but was not entitled to an EIDL loan. The couple is accused of then funneling the funds into personal checking accounts.

The couple pleaded not guilty to the charges, but federal online records show a change of plea hearing has been scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 8.

The hearing is set to take place at 1:30 p.m. at the McMillan Federal Building in Florence.