MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA – On April 26, 2021, Zsa Zsa Bouvier Couch, 52, from Montgomery, Alabama, was arrested on criminal charges related to federal small business loan fraud, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Sandra J. Stewart. Couch made her initial appearance in federal court yesterday, April 27, 2021.
The fraud allegations relate to aid received through the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a federal law enacted in March 2020 to provide emergency financial assistance to the millions of Americans suffering the economic effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. One source of relief provided by the CARES Act is the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, which authorizes the disbursement of forgivable loans to small businesses for job retention and certain other expenses.
According to the indictment returned by a Middle District of Alabama Grand Jury, Couch is alleged to have submitted at least six fraudulent applications for loans under the U.S. Small Business Administration’s PPP program seeking over $1.6 million in funds. In each of the applications, Couch falsely inflated the number of employees who worked for her purported businesses as well as the average monthly payroll for the businesses, which resulted in her ability to qualify for larger PPP loan amounts. Couch is also alleged to have made other false statements in her application, such as failing to disclose that she had applied for multiple PPP loans for the same business and failed to disclose her common ownership of multiple businesses. In support of the inflated employee numbers and average monthly payroll claimed in the applications, Couch allegedly submitted falsified tax documents. As a result, Couch received an inflated amount of funds from PPP loans to which she was not entitled. Ultimately, Couch received a total of $609,687.47 of PPP funds. It is alleged that Couch then used the funds to pay money to herself, her husband, and other family members and to purchase luxury vehicles.
Couch is charged with multiple counts of bank fraud, making false statements to a federally insured bank, and money laundering. If convicted, Couch faces a maximum of 30 years in prison. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
An indictment is merely an allegation and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service- Criminal Investigations, the Small Business Administration Office of Inspector General, and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, investigated this case. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Alice LaCour and Jonathan Ross are prosecuting the case.
For information about the Department of Justice’s efforts to stop illegal COVID-19-related activity, visit www.justice.gov/coronavirus. For the most up-to-date information on COVID-19, consumers may visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and WHO websites.
The public is urged to report suspected fraud schemes related to COVID-19 (the Coronavirus) to the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) hotline by phone at (1-866-720-5721) or via an online reporting form available at www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/webform/ncdf-disastercomplaint-form.