A Missouri woman admitted she devised a scheme to defraud the Paycheck Protection Program — which was designed to help small businesses stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic — while she was awaiting sentencing last year in an unrelated embezzlement case involving a family-owned farm and trucking company.
Christen Diane Schulte, 36, of Washington, Missouri, pleaded guilty to three counts of bank fraud on Sept. 28, admitting she filed three fraudulent PPP loan applications for a business called the Mama Bear Cake Co. from March to May 2021.
Although her first application for a $13,691 loan submitted in March 2021 was rejected once the first bank, First Community Credit Union, discovered her criminal history, prosecutors said she successfully obtained two PPP loans through Benworth Capital Partners for over $27,000 in April 2021.
In a statement from the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Missouri, prosecutors said Schulte admitted to lying on the loan applications “when asked if she was facing or had been convicted of a felony, and when asked the same question about a felony involving fraud, bribery, embezzlement or a false statement in an application for a loan or for federal assistance.”
According to the business entity search on the Missouri secretary of state’s database, Schulte paid $7 to register her home-based business in February 2020.
Prosecutors said Schulte also lied about the gross income of her cake company, claiming she made over $65,000 to “substantiate the loans.”
In court filings, prosecutors said the money for the second loan was deposited into her Mama Bear Cake Co. account eight days before she was sentenced to six years and seven months in federal prison in May 2021 for stealing more than $700,000 from Maczuk Farms Trucking and Maczuk Farms in New Haven, Missouri, where she worked as a bookkeeper for nearly two years.
District Judge Audrey G. Fleissig also ordered Schulte to pay $517,140 in restitution to the Maczuk businesses.
She was indicted on the new bank fraud charges in November 2021, three months after she began serving her sentence in federal prison in Illinois in the trucking embezzlement case.
Schulte is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 28. Prosecutors said she could face up to 30 years in prison on each of the three bank fraud counts in the COVID-relief fraud scheme.
According to court documents, Schulte faces an additional penalty of up to 10 years for committing her crimes while on pretrial release in the embezzlement case.
Federal prosecutors say Schulte diverted a total of $727,000 in company funds from the Maczuk-owned companies over two years from January 2018 to February 2020.
“As part of her scheme, Schulte fraudulently and without permission used the companies’ credit cards for personal expenditures,” according to court filings.
She also had American Express and FirstBank issue her new credit cards in the farm and trucking companies’ names and charged more than 1,800 transactions, racking up more than $532,000 on the credit cards.
In addition, Schulte forged the owner’s and several company employees’ signatures on checks from multiple bank accounts, including personal accounts of the employees, the U.S. attorney’s office said in a statement.
Some of the checks were made payable to Schulte, while others she made payable to the companies to hide the missing funds related to her credit card scheme.
The trucking company owner also served as the treasurer of the Berger Levee District (BLD) of Franklin County and kept the water district’s checkbook at his office.
Prosecutors say Schulte forged the owner’s name on six checks, totaling more than $113,000, from the BLD account and made them payable to the trucking company and farm to conceal the scheme.
Federal prosecutors alleged that Schulte used the money funneled from the trucking company to purchase jewelry, a travel trailer, vehicles, tickets to Universal Studios and Green Bay Packers football games, and to pay for living expenses.
“Christen Schulte exploited the position of trust she occupied at a small, family-owned business,” said Richard Quinn, who served as the special agent in charge of the FBI St. Louis Division, before retiring in December.
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