A 32-year-old Baker City man pleaded guilty Tuesday, June 8, to receiving a $145,200 federal COVID-19 relief loan on behalf of a fictitious company and then using the money for personal purposes, including buying a $49,000 car, federal officials said.

Jeremy Michael Clawson pleaded guilty to one count of theft of public money, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Portland.

Theft of public money is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and three years’ supervised release. With Clawson’s continued acceptance of responsibility, the U.S. Attorney’s Office will recommend a 24-month prison sentence followed by three years’ supervised release, according to the press release. Clawson will be sentenced on Sept. 13, 2021.

As part of the plea agreement, Clawson has agreed to pay $125,200 in restitution to the U.S. Treasury.

Acting U.S. Attorney Scott Erik Asphaug of the District of Oregon made the announcement.

Clawson is serving a 19-month sentence at the Snake River Correctional Institution in Ontario after pleading guilty Sept. 29, 2020, in Baker County Circuit Court to attempting to elude a police officer and driving under the influence of intoxicants on Aug. 21, 2020. Baker City Police officer Justin Prevo arrested Clawson at 11:45 p.m. on Aug. 21 at the intersection of Second Street and Auburn Avenue, according to court records. His earliest release date on that conviction is Dec. 17, 2021, according to Oregon Department of Corrections records.

Clawson, who was driving the 2016 Dodge Challenger he bought with part of the federal loan, failed to stop and drove south, running through two stop signs.

Clawson continued south on Highway 7, stopping near Salisbury Junction, about nine miles south of town, according to court records.

He had been arrested for driving under the influence three times in the past three years, in July 2017 and August 2019 in Malheur County, and in March 2018 in Baker County.

Clawson’s arrest happened 10 days after he deposited $145,200 from a federal loan into an account at Umpqua Bank that Clawson and his girlfriend had opened.

Clawson received the Economic Injury Disaster Loan through the Small Business Administration (SBA), according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney Billy J. Williams.

That was one of the financial aid programs included in the CARES Act that Congress passed in late March 2020.

According to court documents, shortly after depositing the $145,200, Clawson made multiple large cash withdrawals at the drive-thru window of the Umpqua Bank branch in Baker City.

On Aug. 17 he received a $49,905 cashier’s check from the bank to buy the Dodge Challenger.

Umpqua Bank investigators noted the unusual activity on Clawson’s account and reported it to the SBA.

Federal agents seized the Dodge Challenger and approximately $50,000 in cash derived from the fraudulent EIDL pursuant to seizure warrants issued by the federal court and voluntary abandonment of funds in third parties’ possession.

SBA loan documents showed that the loan was made to benefit Halperin Manufacturing Company in San Diego, California. Though there is no record of any such company, the loan application listed the company’s owner and claimed it employed 350 people. Investigators contacted the person listed as the owner, but that person denied owning or being affiliated with any such company.

The purported owner also told SBA investigators that the company’s supposed address in San Diego was that individual’s personal residence and not a commercial property with 350 employees.

In early September 2020, investigators from the SBA and the U.S. Secret Service learned about Clawson’s arrest near Baker City while driving the Dodge Challenger.

Clawson later told authorities that he had received a large inheritance from his father, including $30,000 in cash he had on his person during a subsequent arrest.

On Sept. 11, investigators interviewed Clawson at the Baker County Jail. Clawson claimed to have received the $145,200 from a woman with whom he had an online dating relationship. He said he didn’t know what to do with the money and, after he stopped communicating with the woman, he started spending the money. Clawson admitted to using the SBA money to purchase the Dodge Challenger and several other vehicles, according to the press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Prior to receiving the federal loan, Clawson was the victim in a robbery in Baker City on July 7, 2020.

Two Baker City men, David Michael McMurdo, 37, and Jace Prowell, 29, were later arrested for allegedly stealing from Clawson two cellphones, about $500 in cash, a wallet containing his identification, an Umpqua bank card, an orange Casio watch and a Smith and Wesson pocket knife. Clawson sustained minor injuries during the robbery, police said.

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