Jasmine Johnnae Clifton, 24, of Charlotte, North Carolina, appeared in federal court on Monday after being accused of using the Covid-19 funds on items at multiple businesses, including Louis Vuitton, Nordstrom, IKEA and Neiman Marcus between August and November 2020.
Ms Clifton has been charged with two counts of fraud for using a dissolved business to receive a coronavirus relief loan, according to a press release from the US Attorney’s Office for the Western District of North Carolina on Tuesday.
Prosecutors have claimed that Ms Clifton used an online clothing business named Jazzy Jas LLC to obtain a Covid-19 relief loan created for companies harmed by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“Clifton specifically agreed to use the loan proceeds for Jazzy Jas LLC ‘solely as working capital to alleviate economic injury caused by disaster occurring the month of January 31, 2020,’” prosecutors claimed in the statement on Tuesday.
Her July 2020 application for the loan included false documents that stated the company had revenue of around $350,000 (£250,899) in the 12 months prior to the pandemic hitting the US, but separate paperwork showed that the company had been dissolved in 2019.
Ms Clifton’s loan application was approved in early August and she received the $149,000 funds a few days later, which the 24-year-old subsequently spent at more than 20 retailers, including multiple diamond shops.
Around $50,000 (£35,842) of Ms Clifton’s funds were seized by the federal government in November 2020, and a grand jury indicted her on 17 February for wire fraud in relation to a disaster benefit and fraud in connection with major disaster or emergency benefits.
“At a time our nation is grappling with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and businesses are struggling to cope with the impact of Covid, swindlers are seizing the opportunity to pilfer federal economic relief programs to line their own pockets,” US Attorney Andrew Murray told CNN about the case on Thursday.
“My office is working hard to ferret out criminals who try to exploit the pandemic and steal funds intended for the economic recovery of businesses and communities across the Western District of North Carolina,” he added.
Following a court appearance on Monday, Ms Clifton was released on a $25,000 (£17,921) bond. If convicted, she faces 30 years in prison for each charge and a possible combined fine of $1,250,000 (£896,068).