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Shepherd restaurant owner admits theft of COVID-19 relief funds

Crime Watch
Posted at 12:10 PM, Nov 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-23 23:36:41-05

BILLINGS – A Shepherd man who owns the Feedlot Steakhouse in Shepherd admitted Tuesday that he received approximately $75,000 in a COVID-19 relief loan from the Small Business Administration for his business but used the money to buy vintage automobiles.

U.S. Attorney Leif M. Johnson said in a press release that Michael Eugene Bolte, 70, pleaded guilty to theft of government money, property or records, a misdemeanor. Bolte faces a maximum of one year in prison, a $100,000 fine and one year of supervised release.

A plea agreement reached in the case calls for prosecutors to recommend 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 set sentencing for April 13, 2022. Bolte was released pending further proceedings.

Prosecutors alleged in court documents that on April 1, 2020, Bolte applied to the SBA for a business loan under the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security 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.

“Federal programs, like the one at issue here, don’t work when people cheat. 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,” U.S. Attorney Johnson said in the press release.