GREAT FALLS — A Shepherd man who owns the Feedlot Steakhouse admitted in federal court in Billings on Tuesday to allegations that he received approximately $75,000 in a COVID-19 relief loan from the Small Business Administration (SBA) for his business — but used the money to buy vintage automobiles as an investment, U.S. Attorney Leif M. Johnson said.
Court documents state that on April 1, 2020, Michael Eugene 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 (CARES).
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.
Bolte, 70 years old, pleaded guilty to theft of government money, property, or records - a misdemeanor - as charged in a 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 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 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. 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 Leif Johnson said in a news release.
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.