Missouri business owner sentenced for $650K federal pandemic loan fraud

(The Center Square) – A Missouri business owner who pleaded guilty to charges of bank fraud and misuse of a Social Security number to gain $653,332 in fraudulent COVID relief got a 30-month prison sentence and must repay most of the funds.

Le Mell Harlston, 36, of University City, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Stephen R. Clark on Friday and ordered to repay $650,000. He was indicted in January 2021 when investigators discovered he applied for a series of Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loans offered under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

“This case is one of almost four dozen pandemic fraud-related cases that are being handled by the U.S. Attorney’s office,” U.S. Attorney Sayler Fleming said in a statement announcing the sentencing. “We are continuing to aggressively prosecute these cases.”

The loans were intended to assist business owners affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. In July 2020, Harlston used a minor’s Social Security number on an application for EIDL funds for four companies registered to him.

Harlston also received multiple PPP loans in February 2021 using his own Social Security number. He applied for two PPP loans after he was arraigned in federal court and lied when asked on the applications whether he was under indictment, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Missouri.

Last August, Harlston pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to five counts of bank fraud and nine counts of misuse of a Social Security number. Harlston caused a loss of $551,830 in CARES Act funds.

“The sentence holds Mr. Harlston accountable for his criminal acts of misusing multiple Social Security numbers to defraud several financial institutions and creditors, as well as to fraudulently obtain CARES Act funds,” Gail S. Ennis, inspector general for the Social Security Administration, said in a statement. “My office will continue working with our law enforcement partners to protect the integrity of Social Security numbers.”

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