ST. LOUIS – A St. Louis woman pleaded guilty Friday to fraud involving a $291,000 loan intended to help businesses through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Porshia L. Thomas, 31, is convicted of a federal felony bank fraud charge. She admitted that between April and September of 2020, she executed a scheme to fraudulently obtain a Paycheck Protection Program loan.

Thomas registered a company called Couture Trading Inc. in Montana on April 7, 2020. Less than three months later, she applied for a PPP loan by making a series of false claims. She claimed the company had a Beverly Hills address, had been in operation for five months, had 15 employees, had an average monthly payroll of $120,000.

Federal investigators say the registered company had few employees or payroll expenses. Thomas claimed the loan would be used on expenses permitted under the program, including payroll and mortgage, lease and utility payments.

“Law-abiding citizens are frustrated with those who lie and cheat to get access to money not intended for them,” said Charles Miller, assistant special agent in charge of IRS-Criminal Investigation’s St. Louis field office. “Anyone engaging in this type of financial fraud should be put on notice. They will not go undetected and will be held accountable.”

Thomas also submitted Internal Revenue Service forms listing false information about employees and wages, bogus Wells Fargo bank statements and a fake letter from a Wells Fargo branch manager verifying that Couture Trading had an account. In September 2020, Couture Trading received $291,600.

According to court documents, Thomas used some of the loan for a 2018 Audi S5 Sportback Quattro. She also paid $75,000 to someone whose name was listed in company documentation $75,000, and used more for living expenses. Some of that loan money was also used for purchases at Neiman Marcus, Ulta Beauty, Bath and Body Works and Victoria’s Secret.

Thomas will be ordered to repay any of the money that has not been recovered. She has a sentencing hearing scheduled for Sept. 21.