Ex-Olympic Skater Accused Of $1.6M Virus Relief Fraud

By Rachel Scharf
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Law360 (June 8, 2021, 6:11 PM EDT) -- A former Slovenian Olympic figure skater on Monday was charged in New York federal court with bilking nearly $1.6 million in COVID-19 relief funds and attempting to cover his tracks by forging government documents.

Luka Klasinc, who competed in the 1992 Winter Olympics and now owns a company that stages ice-themed amusement parks around the world, was arrested as he was scheduled to fly from New York to Istanbul, prosecutors announced Tuesday. Klasinc faces charges of bank fraud and aggravated identity theft in connection with an alleged scheme to fraudulently obtain Economic Injury Disaster Loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration, and then wire the funds overseas.

"As alleged, Klasinc used false documents to try and obtain over a million dollars in funds intended to help hardworking Americans," said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Audrey Strauss in a statement Tuesday. "But thanks to the diligence of the FBI, his plans have been put on ice."

Klasinc was detained on risk of flight at a court appearance Tuesday, a spokesperson for the prosecution told Law360. 

According to a criminal complaint unsealed Monday, Klasinc submitted 11 fraudulent applications in July and August for EIDL funds, which were authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act in March 2020 to help small businesses keep up with payments during the pandemic.

While the applications were submitted in the names of various business entities across the country, prosecutors said, they all asked the SBA to deposit the funds into bank accounts owned by Klasinc's company BOB77 LLC.

Prosecutors described BOB77 as an event management company that stages global "ice amusement parks." BOB77's past events have included a "Fun Park" in Warsaw, Poland, an "Ice Fun Park" in Dusseldorf, Germany, and the "Winter Classic" in Ljubljana, Slovenia, according to the complaint.

As BOB77's bank accounts received $1.6 million in SBA loans between July and September, prosecutors alleged, Klasinc initiated wire payments that transferred the funds to international entities in Slovenia, China, Mexico and India.

BOB77's bank, which was not identified in the complaint, detected fraudulent activity and froze the accounts in September, according to prosecutors. When the bank contacted Klasinc to inquire about the activity, Klasinc said that the SBA transfers were investments, not loans, the complaint alleges.

Klasinc then provided the bank with a falsified letter from the SBA purporting to "verify" that the administration was investing $2 million in BOB77, complete with the forged signature of an SBA employee, according to the complaint.

Prosecutors said Klasinc traveled from Istanbul to New York on May 31 and visited the bank numerous times, attempting to unfreeze his accounts to no avail. Klasinc booked a return flight to Istanbul for Monday, but law enforcement sought a warrant for his arrest after a bank employee reported Klasinc's suspicious visits, court records show.

Klasinc's counsel declined to comment on the charges Tuesday.

The government is represented by Ashley C. Nicolas of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York.

Klasinc is represented by Marisa Cabrera of Federal Defenders of New York Inc.

The case is U.S. v. Luka Klasinc, case number 21-mag-5835, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

--Editing by Regan Estes.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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