The U.S. Attorney’s Office is trying to seize properties in western Jordan and Las Vegas that a Utah restaurant owner is accused of using COVID-19 relief funds to buy. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)
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SALT LAKE CITY — Federal prosecutors are trying to seize properties in Utah and Nevada that they say were purchased illegally using federal money earmarked for COVID-19 relief for businesses.
But a lawyer for the owner says it’s all a misunderstanding.
In a civil case filed earlier this month, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Utah accuses Giuseppe Mirenda – who owns three Italian restaurants with family members – of securing around $1.8 million in funds and using some of the money to buy homes in West Jordan and Las Vegas, which the government is now trying to take over.
Mirenda is co-owner of Italian restaurants Sicilia Mia in Farmington and Holladay, and restaurant Anticia Sicilia in Millcreek, the complaint states.
Although prosecutors made claims in a civil complaint that could amount to alleged crimes – including allegations of loan application fraud, wire fraud and money laundering – no criminal charges have been filed. filed against Mirenda. On Friday, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to say whether prosecutors were considering criminal charges.
Mirenda’s attorney, Clayton Simms, told KSL.com on Friday that his client did nothing wrong. The loans have not yet matured and Mirenda intends to repay them in full and before the due date, Simms said.
The civil complaint alleges that Mirenda made false statements when he submitted eight applications for Economic Disaster Loans, a type of loan administered by the US Small Business Administration. The CARES Act, which was signed into law in March 2020, authorized the SBA to provide economic disaster loans of up to $2 million to eligible businesses impacted by COVID-19, according to the civil complaint.
Mirenda listed himself on each application as the sole owner of that business, even though he and two family members each hold a one-third interest in the businesses, the complaint states. Mirenda also reportedly registered as a US citizen, although the complaint says he is not a citizen but rather a lawful permanent resident.
The complaint alleges that Mirenda agreed in the applications that the money would be used for “working capital”, which the complaint defined as rent, utilities, salaries and other expenses.
Simms said the dispute came down to the definition of “working capital,” because his client believed the purchases he made would fall into that category.
“We think you can buy a home office, we think you can buy a property that supports an Airbnb,” Simms said. He then clarified that the West Jordan property served as a home office and the Las Vegas property served as an Airbnb asset. The complaint states that Mirenda used the West Jordan property as her personal residence.
“That’s absolutely something this type of real estate asset is, in this market and in the Las Vegas real estate market. You can easily sell them, easily convert them into working capital,” Simms said.
Mirenda ultimately received funds from the Small Business Administration for six loan applications, according to the complaint. The document indicates that in each of the six cases, Mirenda opened new checking accounts for each company, even though other accounts already existed.
He consolidated the money into a single account, according to the complaint, which amounted to more than $1.8 million. Mirenda is accused of then transferring $610,000 to an account he held jointly with one of his family members.
The complaint states that on October 8, 2020, Mirenda transferred just over $610,000 to a title company to purchase the property in western Jordan. In July 2021, Mirenda reportedly transferred $10,000 from the consolidated account as an earnest money to the Las Vegas property. He then made a second transfer of more than $508,000 from the consolidated account to complete the purchase, the complaint states.
“In conjunction with the purchase of the (Las Vegas property), law enforcement conducted a forensic examination of the (consolidated account) and determined there was a total of $2,100,242.88 in total deposits from April 22, 2020, when the account was opened, through Aug. 6, 2021,” the complaint states.
Simms said the civil complaint is the result of a misunderstanding between federal departments, and he and his client want to make sure the loan was used legally.
“The loan was used in accordance with the purpose of the business, and there is absolutely nothing improper about what was done,” Simms said. “The problem is that in the environment where other people are cheating the government, it can tarnish our reputation and harm us when we have done absolutely nothing wrong.”
Simms said the loans should be repaid and Mirenda is in the process of doing so. A court filing on Thursday says Mirenda was already in the process of selling the West Jordan property before the civil lawsuit was filed against the property on April 19, and money from the potential sale would go directly to the federal government.
Simms added that after reviewing the contract, he believes there is no civil or criminal wrongdoing in the case.
“Anyone can be falsely accused of a crime,” Simms said. “You can’t stop the government from accusing you. But at the end of the day the truth will come out and see that there is absolutely nothing wrong with what happened here.”