ST. LOUIS – A U.S. District judge sentenced a St. Louis County woman to a year and a day in prison Friday, October 7 after reaping fraudulent pandemic funds. 

43-year-old Semaj Portis is ordred to repay $267,239 after registering a company called Forever Riding with the Missouri Secretary of State on January 15, 2021, then submitting 52 fraudulent applications for rent assistance to the Missouri Housing Development Commission, which resulted in grants from COVID-19 Emergency Solutions and Emergency Rental Assistance. Portis listed Forever Riding and herself as the landlords, as well as submitting fraudulent rental leases.

Both grants were aimed to help landlords and their financially struggling tenants during the pandemic. Portis used the funds to go on vacations and buy real estate.

“For too many Missourians, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in an unprecedented time of financial hardship, turmoil, and suffering,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Derek Wiseman wrote in a sentencing memo. “But for defendant Semaj Portis, it constituted a lucrative opportunity to line her pockets with relief payments earmarked for struggling Missourians.”

 The U.S. Secret Service and the FBI investigated the case.

“The United States Secret Service will continue to work with our local, state, and federal partners to aggressively target individuals and groups who attempt to take advantage of federal programs designed to help those in need,” said Special Agent in Charge Thomas Landry of the U.S. Secret Service St. Louis Field Office.  

Missourians are urged to contact the FBI at or (314) 589-2500 with information about rental assistance fraud.