ST. LOUIS – A St. Louis woman is accused of fraud, money laundering, and other crimes while acquiring a $291,000 loan from a COVID-19 pandemic relief program.
Federal prosecutors charged Jeannine R. Buford, 44, with three felonies on Monday, including wire fraud conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering. She pleaded not guilty to all three felonies.
An indictment alleges that a bank issued a $291,000 PPP loan in Sept. 2020 that Buford used on personal expenses. According to text messages cited in federal court, Buford acknowledged the transaction by writing “PPP Party” to a friend and adding that she was going to get a luxury apartment.
In the next several months, Buford spent the money on personal items like food, clothes, a $14,000 deposit on a BMW X6, a couch that cost nearly $5,000 and $1,855 to rent a luxury apartment, per the indictment.
Investigators say the conspiracy dates back to March 2020. Days after Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act took effect, Buford sent a text to another woman saying, “I’m tired of struggling it’s time to put the ski mask on,” adding, “Especially while nobody’s paying attention lol [d]ue to corona[.],” per the indictment.
In April 2020, Buford changed the name of an existing company to Couture Trading Inc. with the Montana Secretary of State’s Office. She listed herself as the company president and Porshia L. Thomas as the director, vice president, secretary and treasurer, per the indictment.
Three months later, Thomas, with the assistance of Buford, electronically submitted a fraudulent Paycheck Protection Program loan application for the company. According to the indictment, the two claimed the business was operating in California, had 15 employees and an average monthly payroll of $120,000. The application noted the money would be used to pay workers and business expenses, including lease and utility payments.
When the bank sought six months of company bank records, Buford told Thomas how to falsify the bank statements, per the indictment.
Buford could face decades in prison or up to $250,000 if convicted. Thomas pleaded guilty to a bank fraud charge in June and will be sentenced on Dec. 29.