Andrew Tezna says he regretted applying for covid-19 relief loans from the Small Business Administration almost as soon as he filed the paperwork. The NASA senior executive tried, unsuccessfully, to cancel one of the applications.
But when the $272,000 arrived, Tezna admitted he used the cash as he had planned - to pay down his massive debts while incurring new costs, including $6,450 for a French bulldog and nearly $50,000 for a swimming pool.
Tezna, 36, who helped oversee NASA spending, was sentenced Thursday in Alexandria, Va., federal court to 18 months in prison.
"I desire nothing more than to show my young children a father who learned from his mistakes, a person that they would be proud of," Tezna, who had lived in Leesburg, said in a letter to the court. "I was entrusted to be a good steward of the Government's resources as a civil servant; instead, I abused a program without regard for anyone but myself."
The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was launched in spring 2020 to help small businesses stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic through forgivable loans. The Trump administration prioritized speed over thorough vetting, and fraud was widespread. The Justice Department says it has prosecuted more than 100 people for submitting fraudulent PPP applications and seized $65 million in cash.
Before the fraud, Tezna lived what appeared to be a quintessential American success story. His family came to the United States from Colombia when he was 13, living in an unfinished basement. As a teenager he helped his mother build a residential cleaning business while taking English classes through Loudoun County and meeting his future wife. He got a degree from George Mason University while working full time to pay for his housing and car. He went on to study accounting and in six years at NASA he rose to the executive level - a "dream job" that paid $181,000 a year, his attorney Page Pate said in court Thursday.
He went to church; he volunteered. When his mother-in-law was abandoned by her husband, she told the court, he offered to take in both her and her own mother who was in the advanced stages of dementia.
But under the surface, Tezna was living a different kind of archetypal American tale. To keep up his family's lifestyle, he went deep into debt.
"It has taken for all of this to occur to finally admit it: I was bad at managing my finances and controlling expenses," he wrote the court.
He confessed to applying for three loans through the PPP - one for his wife's design business, which in reality had no employees and little income, and two for companies he invented using his and his mother-in-law's names.
Tezna also collected unemployment benefits fraudulently in his mother-in-law's name, he admitted, and applied unsuccessfully for more small business loans through his wife's company. He did not report $36,000 in rent from a friend who lived with him and his wife, according to court records.
"These are not one-off mistakes," Assistant U.S. Attorney Kimberly Morgan Shartar said in court. "This was greed."
He used the funds to pay off over $140,000 on credit cards and $18,000 on a car loan, among other debts, while buying new cars and renewing a Disney timeshare, she said.
"He . . . tends to overspend on his family," Pate wrote in a sentencing memorandum.
Tezna was interviewed by federal law enforcement in December and said he would repay the loans after he sold his Leesburg home. But prosecutors said he put most of the money toward his debt and a new $500,000 house in Florida; he paid the government back less than $3,000. On Thursday he made another $10,000 payment.
Pate said Tezna lost his job overseeing policy for NASA's chief financial officer and has been blocked from any future government-related work. The lawyer said Tezna is now working as a loader at Lowe's, earning $14 an hour.