Shepherd man charged in COVID-19 relief fraud scheme

BILLINGS – A Shepherd man who owns a restaurant was arraigned today on charges in connection with a scheme to defraud the Small Business Administration (SBA) of approximately $75,000 in a COVID-19 relief loan and to use those funds for personal benefit, including buying classic cars, Acting U.S. Attorney Leif M. Johnson said.

Michael Eugene Bolte, 70, of Shepherd, owner of the Feedlot Steakhouse, pleaded not guilty to an indictment charging him with wire fraud and with engaging in transactions in property derived from specified unlawful activity. If convicted of the most serious crime, Bolte faces a maximum 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy J. Cavan presided. Bolte was released pending further proceedings.

The indictment said that in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the SBA began the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program to provide economic relief to small businesses and nonprofit organizations that experienced a temporary loss of revenue. Loan proceeds were to be used solely as “working capital” for business operating expenses.

The indictment alleged that from April 1, 2020 to about March 4, 2021, Bolte devised a scheme to defraud the SBA by falsely certifying that loan proceeds were to be used as working capital for the business when in fact approximately $75,000 of loan proceeds were used for his own benefit. The indictment includes a criminal forfeiture in which if convicted, Bolte would forfeit to the United States any real and personal property derived from the offense. Property to be forfeited includes four classic cars — a 1916 Studebaker, a 1929 Franklin, a 1939 Ford Deluxe and a 1941 Ford Super Deluxe.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael A. Kakuk is prosecuting the case, which was investigated by IRS Criminal Investigation, with assistance from the SBA Office of Inspector General and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

An indictment is merely an accusation and defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

On May 17, 2021, the Attorney General established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force to marshal the resources of the Department of Justice in partnership with agencies across government to enhance efforts to combat and prevent pandemic-related fraud. The Task Force bolsters efforts to investigate and prosecute the most culpable domestic and international criminal actors and assists agencies tasked with administering relief programs to prevent fraud by, among other methods, augmenting and incorporating existing coordination mechanisms, identifying resources and techniques to uncover fraudulent actors and their schemes, and sharing and harnessing information and insights gained from prior enforcement efforts. For more information on the Department’s response to the pandemic, please visit https://www.justice.gov/coronavirus

Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form at: https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.

PACER case reference. 21-46.

The progress of cases may be monitored through the U.S. District Court Calendar and the PACER system. To establish a PACER account, which provides electronic access to review documents filed in a case, please visit http://www.pacer.gov/register.html. To access the District Court’s calendar, please visit https://ecf.mtd.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/PublicCalendar.pl.

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