Matthew Jason Welch of Laurel admitted Tuesday in federal court to an illegal attempt to obtain $35,000 in coronavirus relief money aimed at helping struggling businesses during the pandemic, according to Acting U.S Attorney Leif Johnson.
Welch, 37 years old, pleaded guilty to wire fraud in U.S. District Court in Billings. He faces a maximum of 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and three years of supervised release.
The indictment is the fraud case of the Payment Protection Program prosecuted in Montana. The program was created as part of the CARES Act to help businesses cover lost wages for workers and other losses related to the pandemic.
Prosecutors said in court documents that Welch submitted a false PPP loan application in April to a lender in the name of his firm, Welch Sole Proprietorship, seeking $35,000 for payroll, lease, mortgage interest costs and utility costs.
Welch was identified as the sole owner of the business.
In the application, Welch wrote that he had no pending criminal charges, which would have disqualified him from the federal loan, prosecutors said. He repeated those assertions in follow-up emails and phone calls in May.
Law enforcement later discovered criminal proceedings against Welch in district courts in Montana and Wyoming, and they believed he planned to use the PPP dollars to pay off restitution in one of those cases.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy J. Cavan released Welch pending further proceedings.
A sentencing date has not yet been set.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Colin Rubich and Michael Kakuk and William Johnston, assistant chief of the Fraud Section, Criminal Division, of the U.S. Department of Justice, are prosecuting the case. The Small Business Administration and the U.S. Secret Service investigated the case.