Andrew Tezna says he regretted applying for a COVID-19 loan from the Small Business Administration almost immediately after he applied. The NASA chief tried unsuccessfully to cancel one of the applications.
But when $ 272,000 arrived, Tezna admitted that he had used the money as planned – to pay off his huge debts, while incurring new expenses, including $ 6,450 for a French Bulldog and nearly $ 50,000 for a swimming pool.
Tezna, 36, who helped keep NASA’s spending under control, was sentenced Thursday in Alexandria, Virginia by a federal court to 18 months in prison.
“I want nothing more than to show my young children a father who learned from his mistakes, a man they will be proud of,” Tezna, who lived in Leesburg, said in a letter to the court. “I have been charged with managing government resources well as a civil servant; instead, I abused the program, not paying attention to anyone but myself. “
The Payroll Protection Program (PPP) was launched in the spring of 2020 to help small businesses stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic through bad loans. The Trump administration made speed more important than scrutiny, and fraud was widespread. The Justice Department says it prosecuted over 100 people for filing fraudulent PPP claims and seized $ 65 million in cash.
Before the fraud, Tezna had a typical American success story. His family came to the United States from Colombia when he was 13 and lived in an unfinished basement. As a teenager, he helped his mother build a home cleaning business by attending English classes in Loudon County and meeting his future wife. He earned his degree from George Mason University, working full-time to pay for housing and a car. He went on to study accounting and in six years at NASA rose to the management level of a “dream job” that paid $ 181,000 a year, his attorney Paige Pate said in court on Thursday.
He went to church; he volunteered. When his mother-in-law was abandoned by her husband, she told the court that he had offered to accept her and her own mother, who was in the advanced stages of dementia.
But beneath the surface, Tezna lived in a different type of archetypal American fairy tale. To maintain a family lifestyle, he went into debt.
“It took all of this to happen to finally admit it: I mismanaged my finances and controlled expenses,” he wrote to the court.
He admitted that he applied for three loans through PPP – one for his wife’s design business, which actually had no employees and little income, and two for companies that he came up with using his and his mother-in-law’s names.
He admitted that Tezna had also fraudulently collected unemployment benefits on behalf of his mother-in-law and had unsuccessfully applied for additional small business loans through his wife’s company. According to court records, he did not report the $ 36,000 rent from a friend who lived with him and his wife.
“These are not one-time mistakes,” Assistant US Attorney Kimberly Morgan Chartar said in court. “It was greed.”
He used the funds to pay off more than $ 140,000 in credit cards and $ 18,000 in auto loans, she said, on new car purchases and Disney timeshare renewals, among other things.
“He … has a tendency to overspend on his family,” Pat wrote in the sentencing memorandum.
In December, Tezna was interviewed by federal law enforcement agencies and said he would pay back the loans after he sold his home in Leesburg. But prosecutors said he put most of the money into his debt and a $ 500,000 new home in Florida; he returned less than $ 3,000 to the government. On Thursday, he made another payment of $ 10,000.
Pate said Tezna had lost his job overseeing NASA’s CFO policy and was blocked from any future government-related work. The lawyer said Tezna now works as a loader at Lowe’s, earning $ 14 an hour.