Helena man convicted of PPP loan fraud

HELENA — A Helena man has been convicted after he admitted to lying in a scheme to receive more than $400,000 in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans backed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) for the coronavirus relief aid.

Kasey Jones Wilson, 29, pleaded guilty in November 2021 to bank fraud and engaging in monetary transactions in property from specified illegal activities.

US Attorney Leif M. Johnson said Wilson was using the money for personal gain instead. He was sentenced on March 23 to a year and a day in prison, followed by three years of probation.

Chief U.S. District Judge Brian M. Morris presided. Morris also ordered a restitution of $125,000.

“Wilson tried to line his own pockets at the expense of small businesses who needed this federal assistance to help payroll and cover other expenses during a deadly pandemic. These fraudsters will be thoroughly investigated and prosecuted. I want to thank Assistant U.S. Attorney Colin M. Rubich, IRS Criminal Investigation, the FBI, and all of our law enforcement partners for their work on this case,” U.S. Attorney Johnson said.

“This conviction is a victory for the American citizens and business owners for whom the Paycheck Protection Program was designed,” said Andy Tsui, IRS Criminal Investigations Special Agent. “Through our partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and our federal law enforcement partners, IRS Criminal Investigations officers will continue to aggressively pursue individuals who attempt to exploit federal relief programs to their personal profit.

In court documents, the government alleged that on June 28, 2020, Wilson applied to Valley Bank of Helena for a Paycheck Protection Program loan requesting $416,400 on behalf of Step Above Management LLC, an entity he and his co-defendant, Trevor Lanius-McLeod, was controlling. The loan was granted and the funds were sent to an account controlled by Wilson. Lanius-McLeod has pleaded guilty to the charges and is awaiting sentencing.

The PPP program, part of the federal CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act), provided emergency assistance to small businesses for job retention and certain other expenses.

Wilson and Lanius-McLeod made numerous misrepresentations about the PPP loan application. If not for the misrepresentations, Wilson and Lanius-McLeod would not have been eligible for a PPP loan. Defendants falsely stated that Step Above Management paid payroll taxes and had 34 employees. The company never paid payroll taxes and had no employees other than Wilson and Lanius-McLeod. Wilson also indicated on the loan application that he had not been convicted of a crime in the past five years, while he was convicted of a crime in 2016.

The government further alleged that, in a promissory note, the defendants agreed to use the funds for business-related expenses. None of the loan money was used for these purposes. Instead, the proceeds were spent on various personal expenses. Most of the loan funds went to Lanius-McLeod. Wilson purchased several cashiers checks from Valley Bank of Helena made out to Lanius-McLeod.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Colin M. Rubich prosecuted the case, which was investigated by the IRS-Criminal Investigation and the FBI, with assistance from the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for the US tax administration and secret service.

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