Former Blackfeet Tribal operations manager suspected of stealing tribal COVID-19 relief funding arraigned on charges
GREAT FALLS – An East Helena man who admitted lying in a scheme to receive more than $1 million in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) for coronavirus relief aid and using the money instead for personal benefit was sentenced on June 7 to 30 months in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release, U.S. Attorney Jesse Laslovich said.
Trevor Gene Lanius-McLeod, 48, pleaded guilty in December 2021 to bank fraud and to engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from specified unlawful activity.
Chief U.S. District Judge Brian M. Morris presided. Chief Judge Morris also ordered $1,000,043.00 restitution, $125,000 of which will be paid jointly with co-defendant Kasey Wilson who was sentenced in March 2022.
“During a trying time in our country’s history, Lanius-McLeod stole money from a government program designed to keep businesses afloat and lined his own pockets to the detriment of truly needy businesses. Today, we send a strong message that such fraud will not go unpunished in the District of Montana. I want to thank Assistant U.S. Attorney Colin M. Rubich, IRS Criminal Investigation, the FBI and all of our law enforcement partners for their work on this case,” U.S. Attorney Laslovich said.
“The sentence handed down today is a direct reflection of the seriousness of Mr. Lanius-McLeod’s crimes,” said Andy Tsui, Special Agent in Charge, IRS Criminal Investigation Denver Field Office. “Not only is Lanius-McLeod guilty of crimes against the federal government, but he also victimized individuals and businesses the Paycheck Protection Program was designed to protect. These actions will not be tolerated, and the judge’s ruling sends a clear message to others who try to defraud CARES Act programs that these crimes will not go unpunished.”
“Trevor Lanius-McLeod greedily robbed small businesses that depended on PPP funds to survive,” said Special Agent in Charge Dennis Rice of the Salt Lake City FBI. “His sentence should serve as a reminder that the FBI and our federal partners are vigilantly working to make sure federal assistance funds are used as intended, and that those who defraud such programs will be held accountable.”
The PPP program, which is part of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, provided emergency assistance to small businesses for job retention and certain other expenses.
In court documents, the government alleged that beginning in April 2020, Lanius-McLeod devised a scheme to fraudulently obtain money from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Lanius-McLeod applied for four PPP loans through Valley Bank of Helena. In the applications, Lanius-McLeod made numerous false and material statements to obtain approximately $1,043,000 in fraudulent funds from the four loans. Additionally, Lanius-McLeod applied for and received a PPP loan in the amount of $349,000 on behalf of Renovated Montana Properties LLP, an entity Lanius-McLeod controlled.
Lanius-McLeod made numerous false statements on the PPP loan application. Without the false statements, Lanius-McLeod would not have qualified for a PPP loan. The defendant falsely stated that Renovated Montana Properties LLP had paid payroll taxes and had 25 employees. The company never paid payroll taxes and had no employees besides Lanius-McLeod.
The government further alleged that in a promissory note, the defendant agreed to use the funds for business-related expenses. None of the loan money was used for these purposes. Instead, the proceeds were spent on various personal expenses, including the mortgage on Lanius-McLeod’s personal residence.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Colin M. Rubich prosecuted the case, which was investigated by the IRS-Criminal Investigation and FBI, with assistance from the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration and U.S. Secret Service.
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, among other methods, 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.
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 at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form at: https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.
Clair Johnson Howard
Public Affairs Officer