Montgomery Woman Convicted for COVID-19 Era Paycheck Protection Program Loan Fraud
For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Middle District of Alabama
MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA – Today, a federal jury convicted Zsa Zsa Bouvier Couch, 55, from Montgomery, Alabama, on charges related to loans received through the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, announced United States Attorney Sandra J. Stewart. The CARES act is a federal law enacted in March 2020 to provide emergency financial assistance to the millions of Americans suffering the economic effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
One source of relief provided by the CARES Act is the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, which authorizes the disbursement of forgivable loans to small businesses for job retention and certain other expenses. According to court records and evidence presented at trial, Couch submitted at least six fraudulent applications for loans under the U.S. Small Business Administration’s PPP. In total, Couch sought over $1.6 million. In each application, Couch falsely inflated the number of employees who worked for her purported businesses as well as the businesses’ average monthly payroll. These false statements resulted in her qualifying for larger PPP loan amounts than she would have otherwise been eligible to receive. Couch also made other false statements in her applications. For example, she failed to disclose that she had applied for multiple PPP loans for the same business. She also did not disclose her common ownership of multiple businesses. In support of the inflated employee numbers and average monthly payroll claimed in the applications, Couch submitted falsified tax documents. Ultimately, Couch received a total of $609,687.47 of PPP funds. Couch then used the funds to pay money to herself, her husband, and other family members and to purchase luxury vehicles.
On April 8, 2021, a federal grand jury indicted Couch on multiple counts of bank fraud, making false statements to a federally insured bank, and money laundering. Following the guilty verdict, Couch faces a potential sentence of up to 30 years in federal prison. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled for Couch in the coming months.
“The United States Attorney’s Office is committed to detecting, investigating, and prosecuting individuals who exploit public benefit programs,” said United States Attorney Stewart. “My office will continue to work with law enforcement partners to safeguard all tax dollars, especially programs dedicated to help businesses deal with economic hardships during times of crisis.”
“This conviction underscores our unwavering commitment to upholding the rule of law and ensuring that those who engage in fraudulent activities meant to exploit the CARES Act's provisions are held accountable for their actions,” stated Paul Brown, Special Agent in Charge with the FBI Mobile, Alabama Division. “This accomplishment would not have been possible without the dedication and hard work of our law enforcement partners. We understand the significance of CARES Act funds in supporting individuals and businesses during these challenging times, and we will continue to be vigilant in our efforts to hold accountable any individuals or entities engaged in fraudulent activities related to CARES Act relief programs.”
“The defendant fraudulently took money from programs designed to help struggling small businesses survive during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Demetrius Hardeman, Acting Special Agent in Charge, IRS Criminal Investigation, Atlanta Field Office. “The verdict today serves as a reminder to others who defrauded government aid programs that IRS-Criminal Investigation and our law enforcement partners are continuing the pursuit to bring them to justice.”
“The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration will aggressively pursue those who endeavor to defraud taxpayer-funded Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act programs, which were established to provide assistance to American business owners during these unprecedented times,” said Mark Morini, Special Agent in Charge of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration Southeast Field Office. “We appreciate the efforts of the U.S. Department of Justice and our law enforcement partners in this effort.”
The FBI, the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigations, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, and the Small Business Administration Office of Inspector General, investigated this case. Assistant U.S. Attorneys J. Patrick Lamb and Joel Feil are prosecuting the case.
On May 17, 2021, the Attorney General established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force to marshal the resources of the Department of Justice in partnership with agencies across government to enhance efforts to combat and prevent pandemic-related fraud. The Task Force bolsters efforts to investigate and prosecute the most culpable domestic and international criminal actors and assists agencies tasked with administering relief programs to prevent fraud by augmenting and incorporating existing coordination mechanisms, identifying resources and techniques to uncover fraudulent actors and their schemes, and sharing and harnessing information and insights gained from prior enforcement efforts. For more information on the Department’s response to the pandemic, please visit https://www.justice.gov/coronavirus and https://www.justice.gov/coronavirus/combatingfraud.
Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline via the NCDF Web Complaint Form at: https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.
Updated September 27, 2023