St. Louis Woman Accused of Conspiring in $291,000 Pandemic Fraud
For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Missouri
ST. LOUIS – A woman from St. Louis has been indicted and accused of conspiring to fraudulently obtain $291,000 from a COVID-19 pandemic relief program.
Jeannine R. Buford, 44, pleaded not guilty Monday to three felonies: wire fraud conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering.
Within days of the passage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security ("CARES") Act in March of 2020, Jeannine Buford sent a text to another woman saying, “I'm tired of struggling it's time to put the ski mask on,” her indictment says, adding, “Especially while nobody's paying attention lol [d]ue to corona[.]"
In April of 2020, Buford changed the name of an existing company to Couture Trading Inc. with the Montana Secretary of State’s Office, the indictment says. She listed herself as the company president and Porshia L. Thomas as the director, vice president, secretary and treasurer, the indictment says.
On July 15, 2020, Thomas, with the assistance of Buford, electronically submitted a fraudulent Paycheck Protection Program loan application for the company, falsely claiming that it was an operating business located in California, had 15 employees and an average monthly payroll of $120,000, the indictment says. The application said the money would be used to pay workers and business expenses, including lease and utility payments, the indictment says.
When the bank sought six months of company bank records, Buford told Thomas how to falsify the bank statements, the indictment says.
The bank issued a $291,000 PPP loan on Sept. 8, 2020. Thomas then wired $10,000 to Buford and wrote her a $65,000 check, the indictment says. In text messages, Buford celebrated, writing “PPP Party” adding that she was going to get a luxury apartment, the indictment says.
In the next five months, Buford spent the money on personal items including food, clothes, the $14,000 deposit on a BMW X6, a couch that cost nearly $5,000 and $1,855 to rent that luxury apartment, the indictment says.
Buford was indicted November 9. The wire fraud charges carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, or both and the money laundering charge is punishable by up to 10 years in prison or the same fine.
Charges set forth in an indictment are merely accusations and do not constitute proof of guilt. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent unless and until proven guilty.
Thomas pleaded guilty to a bank fraud charge in June and is scheduled to be sentenced December 29.
The case was investigated by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. Assistant U.S. Attorney Derek J. Wiseman is prosecuting the case.
Updated November 28, 2022