GREAT FALLS, Mont. — On Tuesday, a Montana restaurant owner admitted in federal court in Billings that he used COVID relief money to purchase vintage cars.
U.S. Attorney Leif M. Johnson said Michael Eugene Bolte of Shepherd, who owns the Feedlot Steakhouse, admitted he received approximately $75,000 in a COVID relief loan from the Small Business Administration for his business - but used the money to buy vintage automobiles as an investment.
Court documents state 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 federal 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.
When signing for the loan, Bolte intended 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 to purchase 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.
Bolte, 70 years old, pleaded guilty to theft of government money, property, or records - a misdemeanor - as charged in superseding information.
He faces up to one year in prison, a $100,000 fine, and one year of supervised release.
A plea agreement calls for the government to recommend that the indictment be dismissed, and Bolte is 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 Watters presided and scheduled 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. Suppose someone like Bolte applies for federal program funds intended to help businesses survive the pandemic but buys classic cars instead," U.S. Attorney Leif Johnson said in a news release. "In that case, 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."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael 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.
Staff at KRTV first reported this story.