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Montana contractor accused of seeking COVID-19 business loan to pay off personal court costs

Montana contractor accused of seeking COVID-19 business loan to pay off personal court costs

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A general contractor in Montana has been indicted on charges he applied for federal coronavirus relief funding to cover restitution and costs tied to an ongoing criminal case.

Matthew Jason Welch faces two counts of wire fraud in U.S. District Court in Billings. No attorney was listed for Welch, and he has yet to appear on the charges.

In April, Welch applied for $35,000 in Paycheck Protection Program funds to support payroll, lease, utility and other costs for Welch Sole Proprietorship, according to an indictment filed Friday. The PPP funds were allocated by Congress to help businesses struggling amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

It was not immediately clear whether Welch received PPP funds. A representative with the U.S. Small Business Administration district office in Helena did not return a request for clarification by press time Tuesday.

Business owners are ineligible for PPP loans if they are owned 20% or more by someone with an active criminal case, on probation or parole, or with a felony conviction within the past five years.

In his application, prosecutors say Welch stated he was not facing any criminal charges, although he had an active deceptive practices case in Stillwater County District Court.

Welch also told an undercover agent posing as a representative reviewing his application that he had no pending criminal charges, according to the indictment.

Welch intended to use the loan proceeds to pay restitution and other costs related to criminal cases against him in Stillwater County District Court and elsewhere, prosecutors say.

The Stillwater County case alleges Welch took $31,800 in total from three separate households for home repairs but failed to start or complete the work. Welch pleaded not guilty in January.

In May, Welch waived extradition to Wyoming in a criminal case with similar allegations. Prosecutors in Campbell County say Welch received a down payment of $1,690 for a home improvement project, but the work was never done and the money never returned.

Welch has not yet been arraigned on charges in Musselshell County that were filed in May. In that county, Welch faces three separate cases, each charging theft, deceptive practices and elder exploitation. 

A message left at a phone number listed for Welch was not returned Tuesday. An email sent to an account listed for him also went unanswered.

Welch had a $25,231 judgment entered against him in Yellowstone County District Court in 2016 after a Billings company, Tech Construction, said he skipped out on work for a building project. Tech Construction had given Welch a $21,442 down payment, but Welch kept it and did no work, according to the judgment.

In 2019, Welch had a $22,320 judgment entered against him, also in Yellowstone County District Court, for accepting $17,320 in payment for contractor services but never doing the work. The judgment included $5,000 in punitive damages, after the judge found Welch’s deception was “intentional and malicious.”

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