Third Missourian pleads not guilty to fraud in obtaining $185K in pandemic funds

(The Center Square) – The third of three people charged in two schemes to fraudulently obtain more than $185,000 through federal pandemic financial assistance pleaded not guilty to charges.

Shonta Woods, 38, of St. Louis County entered her plea last week and followed the not-guilty pleas in July of Shanay Bolden, 32, of Florissant, and Ashley Luckett, 32, of St. Louis. All three were indicted in July on one count of wire fraud conspiracy and two counts of wire fraud. Bolden also faces an additional charge of wire fraud.

Each charge is punishable by up to 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, or both a prison sentence and a fine.

In the first scheme, Bolden submitted at least eight fraudulent applications to Missouri’s State Assistance for Housing Relief Program, according to information from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Missouri. The funding program was intended to help both renters and landlords during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bolden falsely claimed to be a landlord and paid Woods to electronically submit the fraudulent applications, according to the indictment. Bolden then paid kickbacks to Woods and her purported tenants.

In addition to the kickbacks, Bolden spent part of the $126,500 she received in the scheme on personal items, including purchases made at Saks Fifth Avenue, according to the indictment.

Woods submitted more than 12 fraudulent rental assistance applications on behalf of Bolden, Luckett and herself, the indictment states. They received tens of thousands of dollars in return from the federal funding program. At least two were submitted on behalf of Luckett, who received $20,400, according to the indictment.

The second scheme targeted the Paycheck Protection Program, the federal program designed to assist small businesses with money for payroll and help them survive during shutdowns and the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Bolden falsely claimed to own a lawn services company and Luckett falsely claimed to own a catering company, according to the indictment. Bolden received $18,750 in Paycheck Protection Program loans and Luckett received $20,107, according to charges.

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