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Press Release


For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Arkansas

FORT SMITH James Read, 45, of Mountain Home was sentenced on September 20, 2021 to 63 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release for charges stemming from his abuse of various COVID-19 related economic relief programs.  According to court documents, Read falsified documents to apply for Small Business Administration loans intended for businesses struggling from the COVID-19 pandemic.  Read also filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, on behalf of himself and others, in multiple states despite being ineligible for the funds.  The Court further ordered Read to pay $277,827.00 in restitution for the fraudulently obtained funds.

“Our office will continue to vigorously pursue criminals such as Mr. Read and Mrs. Payne,” stated Acting United States Attorney David Clay Fowlkes.  “This couple executed a scheme to steal money that was intended to help those who were truly in need.  This sort of fraud is reprehensible and will not be tolerated in the Western District of Arkansas.  It is our sincere hope that this sentence sends a clear message to all those who would endeavor to steal money that is intended for the less fortunate: that we will continue to investigate and prosecute these crimes to the very best of our ability and that we will seek sentences that will deter this kind of criminal conduct in the future.”

“Our agents will continue to pursue fake business owners such as Mr. Read aka ‘Snowbird Bob’, who chose to steal funds intended for small business owners crippled by this global pandemic,” said Special Agent in Charge Christopher Artemis, of Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigations.

“In a time of national turmoil and uncertainty, Mr. Read flagrantly defrauded programs intended to assist Americans and their businesses,” said FBI Little Rock Special Agent in Charge James Dawson. “Mr. Read’s total disregard for his fellow citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic revealed his true colors as a fraudster. The FBI will continue to work with its partners to bring criminals who defraud SBA and PUA programs to justice.”

“The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration aggressively pursues those who endeavor to defraud programs afforded to the American people under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act,” said J. Russell George, of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.  “We appreciate the efforts of the U.S. Department of Justice and our law enforcement partners in this effort.” 

Read’s wife, Crystal Payne, 43, was sentenced on September 20, 2021 to five years of probation, a $5,000 fine, and $59,130.00 in restitution for her role in the offense.

The case was investigated by IRS-Criminal Investigations, the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), and the Small Business Administration Office of the Inspector General.

Assistant United States Attorney Hunter Bridges prosecuted the case for the United States.

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Related court documents may be found on the Public Access to Electronic Records website @

Updated September 22, 2021