U.S. charges former Olympic figure skater in COVID-19 small business fraud

·2 min read

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A former Slovenian figure skater who competed in the 1992 Winter Olympics has been criminally charged in Manhattan with fraudulently raising $1.6 million meant to help small U.S. businesses cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.

U.S. prosecutors on Tuesday charged Luka Klasinc, 48, with bank fraud and aggravated identity theft related to his alleged use of falsified documents. The fraud count carries a maximum 30-year prison term.

A federal public defender representing Klasinc did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Prosecutors said Klasinc owns BOB77 LLC, which has staged ice-themed amusement park events in locations such as Warsaw, Poland; Dusseldorf, Germany; and Ljubljana, Slovenia.

According to court papers, BOB77 received $1.6 million of U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) "economic injury disaster loans" from July to September 2020, when there were also many wire transfers to international recipients from its accounts.

After Klasinc's bank froze the accounts on suspicion of fraud, Klasinc allegedly provided a falsified letter on SBA letterhead to "verify" the funds' legitimacy.

Klasinc flew in from Istanbul on May 31 and visited the bank three times to access the funds but was denied, and the bank alerted law enforcement, prosecutors said.

The bank has returned $848,383 from the BOB77 accounts to the SBA, prosecutors added.

Klasinc was arrested on Monday, when prosecutors said he was scheduled to return to Istanbul.

"At a time when U.S. small businesses were struggling because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Klasinc thought he could scam his way to easy money," U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss in Manhattan said in a statement. "His plans have been put on ice."

Klasinc competed in men's singles figure skating at the Olympics in Albertville, France, but did not reach the free skate.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

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