Andrew Tezna was earning a six-figure salary as an executive at NASA when the coronavirus pandemic hit last year, according to federal prosecutors.
He was also sitting on a mountain of credit card debt, court documents show.
The 36-year-old is now accused of applying for more than $350,000 in COVID-19 relief and using the proceeds to settle his debts, make loan payments, send money to a dog breeder and pay his Disney Vacation Club membership, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia said in a news release.
Tezna bypassed a criminal indictment and pleaded guilty to bank fraud on Monday. Under the terms of the agreement, he faces a maximum of 30 years in prison and must pay at least $288,000 in restitution.
“People’s greed, especially when it involves fraudulently obtaining funds meant to help those in need, is truly disappointing,” Darrell J. Waldon, a special agent with the Internal Revenue Service’s criminal investigation unit, said in the release.
Page Pate with the law firm Pate, Johnson & Church is representing Tezna. He told McClatchy News his client worked at NASA for six years and is the director of policy. Tezna is currently on suspension.
“He’s dedicated over a decade to public service and service to our country,” Pate said of Tezna. “He regrets what he did. He took advantage of this government loan program. He quickly accepted responsibility for that, and he’s hopeful he can move forward and get past this.”
A representative from NASA did not confirm Tezna’s current employment status but provided the following statement:
“NASA is aware of reports concerning fraud charges brought against an employee unrelated to the individual’s work for the agency,” the statement reads. “NASA refers all inquiries to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, which has jurisdiction over this ongoing matter.”
COVID loan fraud
According to court documents filed Monday, Tezna lived with his wife and mother-in-law in Leesburg, Virginia, about 45 minutes outside of Washington, D.C., when the pandemic hit in March 2020.
His annual salary at NASA was $170,801, prosecutors said, and he was promoted to a senior executive service position in June.
In the month leading up to his promotion, prosecutors said Tezna filed three fraudulent applications under the Paycheck Protection Program, a federal program designed to help small businesses continue paying their employees during pandemic shutdowns.
The applications were reportedly filed on behalf of his wife and mother-in-law as well as under a fake name for businesses that didn’t exist.
From May 20 to June 4, prosecutors said the federal government shelled out $272,284 in PPP loans for Tezna. He’s accused of spending the loans on a slew of personal expenses, including:
▪ to pay $18,447 on a car loan for a Toyota Sienna
▪ to make $5,727 in payment on a Best Buy credit card
▪ to pay $48,961 on a loan for a residential pool
▪ to pay down $159,700 in personal credit card debt
▪ to pay a dog breeder $6,450
▪ to put $4,992 toward a down payment on a Land Rover
▪ to make $7,200 worth of home improvements
▪ to make $2,500 in payments to the Disney Vacation Club
Nearly $16,000 in unemployment benefits
Prosecutors said Tezna also submitted $69,500 in fraudulent applications for Economic Injury and Disaster Loans allocated to small businesses struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic and received thousands of dollars in unemployment benefits.
Tezna reportedly filed the loan applications on behalf of a business called Andalasia Designs under his wife’s name, but both were rejected by the Small Business Administration.
He filed for unemployment using his mother-in-law’s name and social security number, according to court documents. In the application, prosecutors said Tezna claimed his mother-in-law was a self-employed nanny who earned $2,000 a month when she was actually retired. He subsequently received 21 unemployment checks totaling $15,950 between May and October.
Tezna waived his right to an indictment and pleaded guilty to the charges instead, court filings show.
After his first court appearance Monday, Tezna was released on personal recognizance and ordered to appear for sentencing on July 16. His travel is restricted to the Middle District of Florida and the Washington, D.C. area, and he’s not allowed to discuss the case with family or potential witnesses.