A Tennessee judge on Monday sentenced a woman to more than six years in federal prison and another three years of supervised release, for allegedly obtaining fraudulent coronavirus relief money and subsequently using it for personal luxuries, including cosmetic surgery and a stay at the Trump resort in Sunny Isles Beach, Florida.
The woman, identified by the U.S. Department of Justice in a news release as Leslie Bethea of Surgoinsville, Tennessee, was indicted last June on federal charges for wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, money laundering and making false statements. Bethea pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of making a false statement to a probation officer, the Justice Department said. In addition to her prison sentence, Bethea has been ordered to pay close to $21,000 in restitution.
Bethea, 30, is accused of submitting false information and forged financial records to the U.S. government while applying for a loan under the Payroll Protection Program, which she did ultimately receive although she did not qualify for it. The PPP,backed by the U.S. Treasury that was developed to support struggling companies in the wake of the pandemic, granted Bethea $20,805, according to the Justice Department — an amount based on her allegedly faulty application.
Prosecutors alleged in a criminal complaint that Bethea’s PPP loan application incorrectly stated that she had earned $99,835 in 2019, included fraudulent tax documents that aimed to substantiate that number, and claimed that she had not been convicted of fraud offenses at any time during the previous five years. However, the complaint notes that Bethea was in prison in Tennessee for the duration of the year 2019, and entered a mandatory period of supervised release in October 2020 that required her to submit legitimate monthly reports to her supervising probation officer.
In April of the following year, financial records allegedly show that Bethea traveled to Sunny Isles Beach and booked accommodations for five nights at the Trump International Beach Resort, which cost upward of $2,800, according to the criminal complaint. During her trip to Florida, prosecutors also allege that Bethea used roughly $5,500 of PPP funds to pay for an elective cosmetic procedure at a facility in the area.
Along with the alleged misuse of federal funds, Bethea is accused of violating the terms of her supervised release by making false statements to her probation officer.
“Between on or about May 5, 2021, and May 20, 2021, at Greeneville, Tennessee in the Eastern District of Tennessee Leslie Bethea did willfully and knowingly submit her monthly supervision report for the month of April 2021 and did then and there make the materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statement [sic],” the complaint reads.
It notes that Bethea signed a waiver upon meeting with the probation officer in May 2021, which warns that potential consequences of providing false statements include five years of imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, or both.