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Press Release

St. Louis Woman Sentenced to 24 Months in Prison for Aiding $291,000 Pandemic Fraud

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Missouri

ST. LOUIS – U.S. District Judge Sarah E. Pitlyk on Wednesday sentenced a St. Louis woman to 24 months in prison for conspiring to defraud a COVID-19 pandemic relief program.

Jeannine Buford, 46, changed the name of an existing company to Couture Trading Inc. with the Montana Secretary of State’s Office in April of 2020. She listed herself as the company president and Porshia L. Thomas as the director, vice president, secretary and treasurer. On July 15, 2020, Thomas, with Buford’s help, completed and submitted a fraudulent PPP loan application for Couture Trading. 

Buford and Thomas falsely claimed the company was an operating business located in California, had 15 employees and an average monthly payroll of $120,000. They claimed the loan would be used for salaries and business expenses and submitted fake company bank records.

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. Buford spent the money on personal expenses, including food, clothes, the $14,000 deposit on a 2017 BMW X6, a $5,000 couch and other furniture and $1,855 to rent a luxury apartment in downtown St. Louis.

Picture of an ad for a BMW X6.
Photo from a sentencing memo.

The bank, realizing that something was amiss, recovered $206,000 of the loan money.

“For too many Americans, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in an unprecedented time of financial hardship, turmoil, and suffering. But for the defendant, it constituted a lucrative opportunity to line her pockets with relief payments earmarked for struggling Americans,” a sentencing memo filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Derek J. Wiseman says. Buford’s crime was “motivated purely by greed,” the memo says.

Buford has been engaging in persistent fraud since 1999, including six felony fraud convictions for crimes including forging checks and selling counterfeit handbags, the memo says.

Buford pleaded guilty in February to wire fraud conspiracy. Thomas, now 33, pleaded guilty to a bank fraud charge. She has been sentenced to five years of probation. Both were ordered to repay the money.

The case was investigated by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigations. Assistant U.S. Attorney Derek J. Wiseman is prosecuting the case.
 

Contact

Robert Patrick, Public Affairs Officer, robert.patrick@usdoj.gov.

Updated July 18, 2024

Topics
Coronavirus
Financial Fraud