NEW YORK – Indian American businessman and hotelier Nik Patel of Florida, who pleaded guilty to a massive fraud of more than $179 million, was caught trying to flee the country.
According to the Orlando Sentential, Patel tried to board a plane in Kissimmee on Saturday, just five days after his sentencing, and was headed to Ecuador.
“On January 6, 2018, Patel traveled from his residence to the Kissimmee Gateway Airport in Kissimmee, Florida for the purpose of fleeing the United States…” prosecutors said in a request for a warrant filed by Patrick King, assistant to U.S. Attorney in Chicago John Lausch. “Patel was in possession of a passport… that appeared to be issued by the Government of India.”
The document doesn’t say how authorities were notified about Patel’s escape, but had been monitoring his actions and now faces an additional charge of flight to avoid prosecution.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, Patel is accused of selling about 26 fake loans to a Milwaukee financial firm, Pennant Management.
The indictment accuses Patel of falsely saying his loans were guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He was also sued in civil court and most of his assets have become a part of a civil-court receivership.
Patel had pleaded guilty more than a year ago and was free on bond while he supposedly helped the court recover money he stole. His cooperation was expected to help reduce his time in prison, but after his attempt to flee the country, he could face much more time in prison.
He has had numerous sentencing hearings postponed over the past three years.
The Orlando Sentinel reports that Patel was the high-rolling owner of First Farmers Financial and was buying hotels in Orlando and other cities and also invested in restaurants, including Mingo’s, a restaurant in downtown Orlando.
Investigators have recovered about $100 million by selling off Patel’s hotels, cars and other property but the damage he has created is too large with Mingo’s and Pennant Management closing almost immediately.
Those who invested with Pennant have claimed losses directly tied to the Patel allegations, including the Illinois Metropolitan Investment Fund, which sued the USDA for $50 million, though the USDA has denied responsibility for the fake loans.
Patel is also accused of using Pennant’s money to buy five hotels and personal luxury items such as his $4 million house. Those hotels were auctioned off to raise $80 million and his home was sold for $3.25 million in 2015.
Besides the loans to the Wisconsin company, Patel had also made several conventional loans, totaling $20 million, which were not part of the alleged USDA loan scheme.