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Woman sentenced after fraudulently obtaining COVID-19 relief loan, using it for Trump resort trip and plastic surgery

Leslie Bethea allegedly sought a COVID-19 relief loan even though she did not run a business, authorities said.

Leslie Bethea allegedly sought a COVID-19 relief loan even though she did not run a business, authorities said. (Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office)

A Tennessee woman will spend over six years in prison because she lied to get her hands on COVID-19 relief money and used it for an out-to-state trip to a Trump resort and plastic surgery. Leslie Bethea, 30, pleaded guilty back on Aug. 25, 2022, to a count each of wire fraud and making a false statement to her probation officer.

Bethea had applied for a COVID-19 business relief loan (the Small Business Administration’s Payroll Protection Program) in March 2021 but lied about getting out of prison on Oct. 8, 2020, for wire fraud and was currently on probation, according to federal court documents and a U.S. Department of Justice press statement.

“To qualify for a PPP loan, an applicant had to meet certain criteria, including that the applicant was in operation on February 15, 2020, and either was paying salaries and payroll taxes for employees or paid independent contractors, as reported on an IRS Form 1099-MISC,” records state.

But she was in prison at the time, having been convicted on Sept. 26, 2019. Instead, however, Bethea claimed to run a marketing consulting services business.

“The fraudulent PPP loan application stated that Bethea had made $99,835 during calendar year 2019 (a year when Bethea was in prison), falsely claimed that Bethea had not been convicted of any fraud offenses during the past five years and attached a fraudulent income tax Schedule C as proof of her claim that she made $99,835,” prosecutors wrote.

In her electronic application, she submitted a false IRS Schedule C for tax year 2019 showing that she earned a profit of $90,621, authorities said.

The charges stem in large part from extravagant expenses made in April 2021. Though claiming she received only $200 in income that month, she actually got COVID-19 relief money and more than $4,000, authorities said. On top of that, she lied to her probation officer about leaving Tennessee for Florida, where she got plastic surgery and went to a resort, prosecutors said.

Records show a $5,000 payment to Dolls Plastic Surgery in Aventura, Florida, on April 22, 2021, authorities said. Then another $500 two days later. On April 29, 2021, she paid $2,834.22 to Trump International Beach Resort in Sunny Isles Beach, Florida.

According to officials, Bethea claimed to have no payments of more than $500 that month. Instead, she actually made three such payments, and while violating probation.

“Upon her return to Tennessee, Bethea then submitted a false monthly supervision report to her probation officer for the month of April 2021,” prosecutors wrote. “In that report, Bethea falsely claimed she had only received $200 during the month of April, falsely claimed she had no expenses of more than $500 (even though she paid more than that amount to the Sunny Isles Beach resort and the plastic surgery practice while in Florida), and falsely stated that she had not travelled out of the state of Tennessee during the month of April 2021.”

As part of her sentencing, Bethea must also spend three years on supervised release and pay restitution of $20,805.

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