ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — A St. Louis County woman who pretended to be a landlord spent thousands of dollars in pandemic-related funds on vacations and real estate, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Missouri.

Semaj Portis, 42, pleaded guilty to a felony charge of wire fraud in court Monday. She admitted to taking advantage of a rental assistance program and COVID-19 emergency grants, designed to help landlords and their tenants.

Prosecutors said Portis registered a company called Forever Riding with the Missouri Secretary of State on January 15, 2021. From that date until October 18, she filed a total of 52 applications for rental assistance and submitted fraudulent rental leases. She received $267,239 and used the money for personal expenses.

Portis said in court on Monday that she worked as a nurse for 12 years and then as a medical dispatcher. She was not the landlord for any of the tenants listed in her fraudulent applications.

At her sentencing, scheduled for August 26, Portis will be ordered to repay the money. Wire fraud carries a potential sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

“Financial fraud is particularly egregious when it takes advantage of programs intended to help victims of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said U.S. Attorney Sayler Fleming. “Our office and law enforcement have been aggressively investigating and prosecuting these cases.”

Anyone with information about rental assistance fraud should contact the FBI at or (314) 589-2500.