St. Louis Woman Sentenced to a Year in Prison, Ordered to Repay $267,000 in Pandemic Rental Fraud
For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Missouri
ST. LOUIS – U.S. District Judge Audrey G. Fleissig on Friday sentenced a woman from St. Louis County, Missouri to a year and a day in prison and ordered her to repay the $267,239 she reaped in a pandemic-related fraud.
Semaj Portis, 43, registered a company called Forever Riding with the Missouri Secretary of State on Jan. 15, 2021, then submitted 52 fraudulent applications for rent assistance to the Missouri Housing Development Commission, which administered Emergency Rental Assistance and COVID-19 Emergency Solutions Grants. Portis listed herself or Forever Riding as the landlord and also submitted fraudulent rental leases.
The grants were designed to help both landlords and their financially struggling tenants during the COVID-19 pandemic and “could have and should have gone to Missourians who were struggling during the darkest days of the pandemic,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Derek Wiseman said in court Friday.
Portis, who used the money for vacations and to purchase real estate, took “advantage of a once-in-a-generation crisis,” Wiseman said.
“For too many Missourians, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in an unprecedented time of financial hardship, turmoil, and suffering. But for Defendant Semaj Portis, it constituted a lucrative opportunity to line her pockets with relief payments earmarked for struggling Missourians,” Wiseman wrote in a sentencing memo.
The case was investigated by the U.S. Secret Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistant United States Attorney Derek Wiseman is prosecuting the case.
“The United States Secret Service will continue to work with our local, state, and federal partners to aggressively target individuals and groups who attempt to take advantage of federal programs designed to help those in need,” said Special Agent in Charge Thomas Landry of the U.S. Secret Service St. Louis Field Office.
Anyone with information about rental assistance fraud should contact the FBI at firstname.lastname@example.org or (314) 589-2500.
Updated October 7, 2022