ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A northern Virginia banker who admitted illegally receiving $1.4 million in fraudulently obtained coronavirus relief funds has been sentenced to a year in prison.
Tarik Jaafar, 43, of Woodbridge, was arrested in June at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York after purchasing one-way tickets to Poland. Authorities say he and his wife had 18 bags of luggage and nearly $50,000 in cash with them at the time.
He pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Alexandria to fraud. He admitted filing 18 different loan applications using various shell companies under a federal program meant for businesses struggling under the coronavirus pandemic.
He sought $6.6 million and received $1.4 million.
Prosecutors had sought a two-year sentence, while Jaafar's lawyer asked he be sentenced to time served, or about five months.
When U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton imposed the one-year term Jaafar — who shook throughout the hearing and said he suffers from panic attacks — collapsed and had to be carried out of the courtroom by marshals.
In a halting voice, Jaafar apologized for his actions. He said he was desperate to feed his family after losing his job in 2019.
"Your honor, I'm asking for compassion and mercy," Jaafar said. "I learned my lesson."
In papers filed ahead of his Friday sentencing hearing, prosecutors say Jaafar earned more than $200,000 annually as a banker working for companies including Citibank and Lehman Brothers before losing his job.
Jaafar, who knew he was under investigation when he tried to fly to Poland, said he was simply trying to visit his ill father.
Prosecutors expressed skepticism, given that the flight came two days before he was to meet with prosecutors and the fact that he had so much luggage and cash on hand, as well as numerous cellphones and laptops.
"If not for the banks, and if not for law enforcement showing up at the airport, we would not be here today," prosecutor Kimberly Sharter said.
"During a time of national crisis, the federal government set aside money to help struggling businesses pay their hardworking employees and keep their doors open," said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. "Tarik Jaafar planned and executed a scheme to steal money from this essential program."
Defense attorney Jeffrey Zimmerman emphasized the fact that the loans were all either frozen or returned.
"This was a stupid and absolutely profitless crime that has destroyed Mr. Jaafar's life," he said.
Jaafar's wife, Monica Magdalena Jaworska, 43, of Ashburn, will be sentenced next week.
Their cases are among dozens around the country brought by federal prosecutors for coronavirus-related fraud.