A Tennessee woman who was already on probation for fraud when she stole thousands of dollars in Covid relief funds and used the money to travel to a Florida resort and receive plastic surgery was sentenced this week to more than six years in prison and ordered to pay the money back.
Leslie Bethea, 30, of Surgoinsville, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of making a false statement to her probation officer after being indicted in June on wire fraud, money laundering and other charges. Judge J. Ronnie Greer sentenced Bethea to 78 months in prison on Monday.
According to the Department of Justice, Bethea applied for a Payroll Protection Program loan in March 2021, claiming she had made $99,835 in 2019 — a year during which she was in prison for wire fraud. Bethea also claimed on the application that she had not been convicted of any fraud offenses in the five years prior.
She received a $20,805 PPP loan in April 2021 and used a portion of it to pay for a five-day trip to the Trump International Beach Resort in Sunny Isles Beach, Florida, according to the Department of Justice. While there, she also used the money to pay for a cosmetic surgery procedure, the Justice Department said. Prosecutors say she lied to her probation officer about her finances and travel when she returned.
“Upon her return to Tennessee, Bethea then submitted a false monthly supervision report to her probation officer for the month of April 2021,” the DOJ said. “In that report, Bethea falsely claimed she had only received $200 during the month of April, falsely claimed she had no expenses of more than $500 (even though she paid more than that amount to the Sunny Isles Beach resort and the plastic surgery practice while in Florida), and falsely stated that she had not travelled out of the state of Tennessee during the month of April 2021.”
In addition to her sentence in prison, Bethea was ordered to pay restitution of the amount of the loan.
An attorney for Bethea, Douglas Payne, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.