St. Louis woman pleads guilty in $291,000 in federal COVID-19 fund scam

(The Center Square) – A St. Louis woman who admitted to fraudulently obtaining a $291,000 Paycheck Protection Program loan in 2020 will be sentenced on Sept. 21.

Porshia L. Thomas, 31, pleaded guilty to a felony bank fraud charge last week after she revealed a scheme to take federal funds to help businesses survive the COVID-19 pandemic and purchased items, including a 2018 Audi S5 Sportback Quattro.

“Law abiding citizens are frustrated with those who lie and cheat to get access to money not intended for them,” Charles Miller, assistant special agent in charge of IRS-Criminal Investigation’s St. Louis field office, said in a statement. “Anyone engaging in this type of financial fraud should be put on notice. They will not go undetected and will be held accountable.”

Thomas registered a company, Couture Trading Inc., in Montana on April 7, 2020, according to a news release by Sayler A. Fleming, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri. She made several false claims in an application for a PPP loan on July 15, 2020. She said the company was in Beverly Hills, California, and in operation for at least five months. She said Couture Trading had 15 employees and an average monthly payroll of $120,000. She said the loan would be used for payroll, mortgage, lease and utility payments and other allowable expenses under the program.

Thomas submitted Internal Revenue Service forms with false information about employees and wages. She also sent to the IRS a fake letter from a Wells Fargo branch manager stating Couture Trading had an account along with forged bank statements.

Couture Trading received $291,600 on Sept. 8, 2020.

In addition to the auto, Thomas paid $75,000 to someone whose name was listed in the company documentation. She also used the money for living expenses and purchases at Nieman Marcus, Ulta Beauty, Bath and Body Works and Victoria’s Secret.

Thomas will be ordered to repay any of the money not yet recovered.

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