SAN DIEGO — Two San Diego restaurant owners were charged with fraud and money laundering in connection with an alleged scheme to falsify applications for COVID-relief funds.

That’s according to U.S. attorney Randy Grossman’s office Tuesday, which announced the indictment of Leronce Suel, 46, and RaVae Smith, 45, who owned Rockstar Dough LLC and Chicken Feed LLC.

From March 2020 to June 2022, the U.S. attorney’s office says Suel and Smith allegedly conspired to underreport over $1.7 million in gross receipts on Rockstar Dough LLC’s 2020 corporate tax return filed with the IRS in order to qualify for pandemic relief funds through the Paycheck Protection Program and Restaurant Revitalization Funding loans.

According to the U.S. attorney’s office, Suel and Smith also allegedly made materially false certifications on loan applications regarding the use of the money. The indictment states that the pair made “substantial cash withdrawals” from their business bank accounts to launder the fraudulently obtained funds.

“During an unprecedented public health emergency, the United States provided these loan programs to deliver economic relief to Americans,” said U.S. attorney Randy Grossman. “This office will investigate and prosecute those who exploited the global pandemic to unjustly enrich themselves.”

As part of that alleged conspiracy, Suel and Smith were said to have concealed more than $2.4 million in cash at their residence. The business owners, who operated a series of restaurants in the San Diego area through Rockstar Dough LLC and Chicken Feed LLC, made their initial court appearance Tuesday.

The case is being prosecuted by assistant U. S. attorney Christopher Beeler and trial attorney Julia M. Rugg from the Department of Justice’s Tax Division.