An Ohio woman and former bakery owner was sentenced to six years in prison and was ordered to pay $1.5 million in restitution for stealing the identity of a dead baby and fraudulently obtaining a pandemic relief loan.
The woman, Ava Misseldine, 50, was sentenced on Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Columbus, Ohio, according to court documents, more than 10 months after pleading guilty to 16 counts of wire and passport fraud.
“Ava was very remorseful over her past criminal behavior, and, at sentencing she read a very emotional statement accepting responsibility for her actions,” Alan Pfeuffer, a lawyer representing Ms. Misseldine, said in a statement on Wednesday, adding that she had outlined “plans to seek counseling while in prison.”
As per the plea deal, which was outlined by the U.S. Attorney’s Office last year, Mr. Pfeuffer confirmed that Ms. Misseldine had already paid over $300,000 from the sale of a home in Michigan that she had bought using money from her Paycheck Protection Program loan. Another home she owns in Utah is on the market, he said, and proceeds from that sale should bring her within a few hundred thousand dollars of making full restitution for her theft of P.P.P. funds.
She received the money in 2020, using her real name and a fake one. Her loan application, which included forged documents, listed her businesses as several bakeries and catering companies.
Ms. Misseldine’s crimes date back to 2003, when she applied for an Ohio ID, and later a Social Security card and driver’s license, using the identity of a baby who died in 1979.
Four years later, she continued her crime spree, using the stolen identity to obtain a student pilot certificate and a U.S. passport. Ms. Misseldine claimed she needed the passport to travel internationally as a flight attendant for JetSelect, where she was employed under the false identity. JetSelect is a private aviation company that is based in Columbus.
She continued to obtain identity documents using her real and fake names, but by 2021, the authorities started investigating Ms. Misseldine’s activities after she tried to renew the fraudulent passport.
She was arrested in June 2022 in Utah, where she had relocated and obtained driver’s licenses in both names.
Federal officials have been working to crack down on pandemic fraud and recoup billions of dollars that were falsely obtained. Investigators have taken up novel ways to root out what officials say were an enormous number of fraudulent claims that were submitted and approved during the pandemic.
Officials with the Small Business Administration said that more than $200 billion, or at least 17 percent of the roughly $1.2 trillion in pandemic loans that the agency gave out, landed in the hands of “potentially fraudulent actors.”
In November, 17 public employees were charged in schemes to defraud Covid relief programs. They collectively stole more than $1.5 million from the federal Small Business Administration and financial institutions that issued guaranteed loans. The money was spent on personal expenses, like gambling, stocks, furniture and luxury clothing.
Not everyone who stole money used it to fund lavish lifestyles; some have gone to greater extremes. In February 2022, the authorities said a Florida woman had used part of a $15,000 P.P.P. loan to pay a hit man.