CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Dino Crnalic, 33, of Charlotte, appeared in federal court today following his arrest on Friday, August 21, 2020, for various fraud schemes that defrauded the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and others of more than $800,000, announced Andrew Murray, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina. U.S. Magistrate Judge David S. Cayer presided over the hearing. The alleged fraud schemes involved Crnalic’s efforts to open a sushi restaurant and fitness center near Uptown Charlotte.
According to allegations contained in the indictment, from July 2017 through at least November 2019, Crnalic executed multiple fraudulent schemes and obtained more than $800,000 in SBA-backed loans from various federally insured financial institutions and from other entities. As alleged in the indictment, Crnalic secured the SBA-backed loans by submitting fraudulent documents, including fraudulent applications and fake supporting documentation, and by making various false statements. As part of his fraudulent schemes, the indictment alleges that Crnalic also stole the identity of at least one individual identified in court documents as C.P., and used various falsified documents in C.P.’s name, including a falsified United States Passport. According to the indictment, Crnalic fraudulently obtained more than $800,000 through his schemes, which he used for, among other things, personal expenses, including trips to various casinos, and attempted to obtain hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The indictment alleges that, during the relevant time period, Crnalic formed various business entities doing business in the Charlotte area that he controlled, including Suki Sushi LLC (Suki), Suki Akor LLC (Akor) and Surge Fitness Centers, LLC (Surge). As alleged in the indictment, by no later than the summer of 2016, Crnalic began the process of opening a new sushi restaurant in uptown Charlotte named Suki Akor. As part of that process, Crnalic applied for a loan with a financial institution in the name of Suki, through the SBA 7(a) Loan Guaranty Program. Under this program, the SBA does not loan money directly to small businesses, but provides guaranty to the lending financial institutions that the SBA will repay a percentage of a qualified loan in the event that a borrower defaults.
In applying for the loan with the financial institution for an SBA-backed loan, and obtaining the loan disbursements, the indictment alleges that Crnalic submitted numerous fraudulent documents and made various false statements, including that C.P. was a partner in Suki, when in fact C.P. had nothing to do with Suki or the Suki Akor restaurant. Crnalic also submitted fake invoices for construction costs at the restaurant, fraudulent operating agreements bearing C.P.’s forged signature, falsified bank statements, and fraudulent loan applications. Furthermore, as alleged in the indictment, Crnalic sent and received emails using an email address purportedly belonging to C.P., when in fact Crnalic controlled the email address.
The indictment alleges that, contrary to promises Crnalic made to the financial institution that provided the loan, Crnalic spent a portion of the loan proceeds to cover personal expenses, including to gamble, pay rent on an apartment in Uptown Charlotte, make a car payment on a luxury vehicle, and make purchases at restaurants and bars throughout North Carolina, Florida and in Las Vegas.
According to allegations in the indictment, on or around January 2018, Crnalic applied for an SBA line of credit in the name of Suki through the same financial institution. As with a previous loan application, Crnalic submitted fraudulent loan documents that contained, among other things, forged signatures for C.P., some of which had been notarized through the use of a falsified United States Passport in C.P’s name. Based on the fraudulent documentation, Crnalic was able to obtain an SBA-guaranteed line of credit loan through the financial institution. Contrary to his representations about how the proceeds would be used, Crnalic used a portion of the proceeds for personal use, including to fund a trip to Harrah’s casino in New Orleans.
As alleged in the indictment, in or around March 2018, Crnalic opened up a restaurant in uptown Charlotte named Suki Akor. By no later than May 2018, the restaurant closed, and it ceased operations permanently. At the time of its closing, the indictment alleges that Suki and Akor had hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid obligations in addition to the SBA-backed loans from the financial institution, most of which were never paid.
According to allegations in the indictment, by no later than the fall of 2018, Crnalic began the process of opening Surge, a new fitness center located near Uptown Charlotte, and applied for a $250,000 business loan with another financial institution. As with the previous restaurant scheme, Crnalic submitted numerous fraudulent documents and made various false statements while attempting to obtain the loan, including making false statements about the business and C.P.’s involvement. When the financial institution requested to meet with Crnalic and C.P. to discuss the loan further, the indictment alleges that Crnalic stopped pursuing the loan. Also in connection with his efforts to open Surge, Crnalic used C.P.’s identity and other falsified documents to finance $47,473 in fitness equipment through an equipment financing company headquartered in Alexandria, Minnesota. As alleged in the indictment, Surge ultimately defaulted on the lease agreement with the company.
Crnalic is charged with two counts of financial institution fraud, which carry a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and a $1,000,000 fine per count; three counts of aggravated identity theft, which carry a mandatory sentence of two years in prison per count, consecutive to any other sentence imposed; concealment money laundering, which carries a maximum prison term of 20 years and a $500,000 fine; making a false statements to a bank in connection with a loan, which carries a maximum prison sentence of 30 years and a $1,000,000 fine; and wire fraud, which carries a maximum prison term of 20 years and a $250,000 fine. The indictment also contains a forfeiture money judgment in the amount of at least $845,000, such amount constituting the fraudulent proceeds of the loan scheme.
The charges contained in the indictment are allegations. The defendant is innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt in a court of law.
In making today’s announcement, U.S. Attorney Murray credited the Charlotte Division of the FBI the SBA’s Office of the Inspector General for the investigation of this case.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Ryan, of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte, is prosecuting the case.
If you believe you are a victim or have information related to this case, please contact the FBI at 704-672-6100, and select option 2 when prompted.