Couple facing federal charges for conspiracy to steal millions in COVID relief funding

DULUTH, Ga. — A Duluth couple face federal charges after investigators say they led a large conspiracy to steal millions in COVID-19 relief funding.

Paul Kwak and his wife Michelle face money laundering, theft and conspiracy charges.

Kwak is a noted member of the Metro Atlanta Korean community.

Channel 2′s Gwinnett County Bureau Chief Tony Thomas confronted Kwak about the charges outside the couple’s offices in Duluth.

“Did you take any of the money?” Thomas asked. Kwak refused to answer.

The FBI says Kwak had a lot to say in more than 50 YouTube videos posted on the internet. Kwak used them as part of lessons for his Global Financial Academy.

Kwak recruits South Koreans to invest in the U.S., promising wealth. The FBI says in recent months, the Kwaks used client identities and fraudulent applications to steal money from the federal program to help small businesses during COVID-19 known as EIDL.

The feds say the couple and their associates filed 73 bogus applications and received millions in aid, some of it winding up in the Kwaks’ personal accounts. The FBI complaint says Kwak wrote to one recruit saying, “Americans are careless.”

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The FBI translated one video title as “Disaster assistance you don’t have to pay back.” At one point, Kwak told viewers “members of the news have been seeing good results due to the pandemic. I’m over the moon.”

Investigators say many of the businesses used in the applications were shell companies, only a name, with no employees and no sales. Many of the companies’ addresses were linked to the Kwaks offices or their one-time Braselton home.

Thomas reached Paul Kwak’s attorney, Page Pate, who said the Duluth offices serve as an incubator for small businesses and the couple did nothing wrong. He says the government is the one that has it all wrong.

“Part of the problem is the government has not talked to all the individuals who Mr. Kwak was helping. My understanding he is a respected Korean businessman. He helps a lot of small businesses get up to speed. We do not believe he has committed fraud,” Pate said.

Thomas also spoke with David Williams of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.

“It breaks your heart to hear about this, because there are businesses that are closing,” Williams said. “There may be cases where we never find out just the extent of waste fraud and abuse in these programs. "

The Kwaks insist it’s just an overaggressive government making them an example without facts.

They are both free on $50,000 bond.