Helena man sentenced to prison for bank fraud in COVID-19 relief scheme
GREAT FALLS – A Helena man who admitted lying in a scheme to receive more than $400,000 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 March 23 to one year and one day in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release, U.S. Attorney Leif M. Johnson said.
Kasey Jones Wilson, 29, pleaded guilty in November 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 $125,000 restitution.
“Wilson tried to line his own pockets at the expense of small businesses that needed this federal aid to help make payroll and cover other expenses during a deadly pandemic. Such fraudsters will be fully investigated and prosecuted. 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 Johnson said.
“This sentencing is a victory for American citizens and the business owners the Paycheck Protection Program was designed to help,” said Andy Tsui, IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge. “Through our partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and our federal law enforcement partners, IRS Criminal Investigation agents will continue to aggressively pursue individuals who try to exploit federal relief programs for their personal gain.”
In court documents, the government alleged that on June 28, 2020, Wilson applied to Valley Bank of Helena for a Paycheck Protection Program loan seeking $416,400 on behalf of Step Above Management LLC, an entity he and codefendant, Trevor Lanius-McLeod, controlled. The loan was granted, and funds were sent to an account that Wilson controlled. Lanius-McLeod has pleaded guilty to charges and is pending sentencing.
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.
Wilson and Lanius-McLeod made numerous false statements on the PPP loan application. Without the false statements, Wilson and Lanius-McLeod would not have qualified for a PPP loan. The defendants falsely stated that Step Above Management had paid payroll taxes and had 34 employees. The company never paid payroll taxes and had no employees besides Wilson and Lanius-McLeod. Wilson also represented on the loan application that he had not been convicted of a felony within the last five years, when he had been convicted of a felony in 2016.
The government further alleged that in a promissory note, the defendants 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. Most of the loan funds went to Lanius-McLeod. Wilson purchased several cashier’s checks from Valley Bank of Helena payable to Lanius-McLeod.
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.