BILLINGS – A Shepherd man who owns the Feedlot Steakhouse in Shepherd admitted to allegations this week that he received a COVID-19 relief loan for his business but used the funds to buy vintage automobiles as an investment, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Michael Eugene Bolte, 70, pleaded guilty to theft of government money, property or records, a misdemeanor, as charged in a superseding information. Bolte faces a maximum of one year in prison, a $100,000 fine and one year of supervised release.
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A plea agreement reached in the case calls for the government to recommend to the court at sentencing that an indictment be dismissed and for Bolte to be responsible for full restitution of $74,800. Bolte also agrees to a criminal forfeiture of the vintage automobiles, including a 1916 Studebaker, a 1929 Franklin, a 1939 Ford Deluxe and a 1941 Ford Super Deluxe.
U.S. District Judge Susan P. Watters presided. Judge Watters set sentencing for April 13, 2022. Bolte was released pending further proceedings.
“Federal programs, like the one at issue here, don’t work when people cheat," U.S. Attorney Leif Johnson said. "If someone like Bolte applies for federal program funds intended to help businesses survive the pandemic but buys classic cars instead, that deprives other deserving applicants of the opportunity to use the funds. These government loan programs rely on the integrity of applicants to use the money as intended. When people try to cheat, they will be thoroughly investigated and prosecuted.”
The government alleged in court documents that on April 1, 2020, Bolte applied to the SBA for a business loan under the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program, authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
On May 24, 2020, Bolte signed a loan agreement for $74,800 and expressly acknowledged the EIDL loan would be used solely as working capital for his business. Bolte’s intent at the time of signing for the loan was to buy vintage automobiles as an investment, and not as working capital for his business.
Eleven days after receiving the loan, Bolte wrote a check for $75,000 for the purchase of four vintage vehicles. The SBA would not have approved or funded Bolte’s loan had it known Bolte’s intended and actual use of the funds.
“Individuals that attempt to defraud government programs meant to help struggling businesses and taxpayers will be brought to justice,” said Andy Tsui, IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge, Denver Field Office. “We are pleased to work with our law enforcement partners to prosecute these crimes and to ensure the public is aware of our commitment to investigate those that commit these crimes.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael A. Kakuk prosecuted the case, which was investigated by the IRS Criminal Investigation, with assistance from the SBA Office of Inspector General and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
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.
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This article originally appeared on Great Falls Tribune: Montana restaurant owner admits theft in COVID-19 relief loan program