<p>Luka Klasinc, a former Olympic ice skater, has been arrested and charged with fraud</p> (Getty)

Luka Klasinc, a former Olympic ice skater, has been arrested and charged with fraud

(Getty)

A former Olympic ice skater has been charged with defrauding the United States government of $1.5 million, the Department of Justice announced on Tuesday.

The Manhattan US Attorney’s Office says Luka Klasinc, who competed for Slovenia at the 1992 Winter Olympics, took advantage of a program meant to help small businesses hit hard by the coronavirus crisis.

“As alleged, at a time when US small businesses were struggling because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Klasinc thought he could scam his way to easy money,” Manhattan US Attorney Audrey Strauss said in a statement.

By falsifying documents and misrepresenting his finances, the US Attorney says, Mr Klasinc bilked the US Small Business Administration out of $1,595,800 – until he got caught.

“As alleged, Klasinc used false documents to try and obtain over a million dollars in funds intended to help hard working Americans but, thanks to the diligence of the FBI, his plans have been put on ice,” Ms Strauss said.

Mr Klasinc was arrested in Manhattan on Monday, and has been charged with bank fraud and aggravated identity theft. If convicted, he could face more than 30 years in prison.

The Justice Department says Mr Klasinc claimed to run a company that “stages major ice-themed amusement park-style events around the world.” In the summer of 2020, he allegedly applied for eleven loans to that company from the SBA, all on false pretenses.

At the time, the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loans program was flush with cash from the CARES Act, which allotted hundreds of billions of dollars to help businesses hurt by the pandemic.

After noticing evidence of potential fraud, Mr Klasinc’s bank froze his accounts and asked him for more information. At that point, Mr Klasinc allegedly sent the bank a falsified document purporting to be a letter from the SBA. Some time after that, the FBI got involved.

“Loans issued on behalf of the SBA were intended to provide relief for businesses struggling during the pandemic,” said FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William Sweeney, Jr. “Time and again we see instances of fraud and abuse of this program. We will investigate all instances of alleged SBA loan fraud and hold accountable those who take advantage of this program for personal gain.”

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