An Ohio bakery owner—who for nearly 20 years lived a double life after stealing a dead baby’s identity—is on the hook for more than $1.5 million in ill-gotten gains and will soon head off to prison, though she’s asking for one last taste of freedom before then.
Flight-attendant-turned-cupcake-entrepreneur Ava Virginia Misseldine, 50, pleaded guilty last month to 15 counts of wire fraud and one count of passport fraud. Misseldine, who ran a string of popular organic bake shops around the Columbus area, had been masquerading since 2003 as Brie Bourgeois—an infant who died in 1979 at just 18 weeks old.
Misseldine was released from prison in 2000 following a 1997 conviction for theft and forgery. She then became Brie Bourgeois, using her new name to get a job as a flight attendant, obtain a student pilot’s license, a passport, and a Social Security card. Misseldine toggled back and forth between the two names, largely operating her businesses under her legitimate identity. One of her stores, the Koko Tea Salon & Bakery, was even featured on the Food Network for its signature red velvet cupcakes.
Paula Bourgeois, Brie’s mother, told The Daily Beast shortly after Misseldine’s arrest that she had no idea someone had been using her late child’s name and said she had never met or heard of Misseldine.
By 2014, Misseldine had become enough of a success to warrant a profile in Columbus Monthly. Yet, at the same time, she seems to have created a new legend for her real life, as well.
In one interview, Misseldine said she grew up in Hawaii and had worked as a cancer researcher before moving to Ohio to study chemical engineering. In another, Misseldine claimed her family back in Hawaii ran a generations-old tea business, and that she started baking as an homage to her grandmother. (None of this was so, Misseldine’s brother Russell told The Daily Beast back in June.)
In 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic hobbled the global economy, Misseldine used both her real name and bogus identity to apply for and receive “at least $1,556,999.45” in fraudulent Paycheck Protection Program loans which were later forgiven, according to a forfeiture order filed Nov. 29.
Misseldine used much of the stolen money to purchase a $650,000 home in Utah and a $330,000 home in Michigan, according to prosecutors. The Michigan property has been sold for $369, 628.74, according to the forfeiture order. The Utah spread will be put up for sale, with the proceeds going towards Misseldine’s court-mandated restitution.
A sentencing date for Misseldine has not yet been set. And despite the looming prospect of decades in prison, she’s already itching to get home.
“Defendant has been housed at the Butler County Jail in Hamilton, Ohio since her arrest on June 8, 2022, and remains there at this time,” defense attorney Alan Pfeuffer wrote in a Wednesday filing, requesting a detention hearing to have his client sprung. (Misseldine waived her right to a detention hearing after her arrest in June.)
Pfeuffer argued in the filing that the initial Pretrial Services report recommended that Misseldine “be released on a recognizance bond, with eight (8) conditions to address the issues of flight and/or danger to the community.”
U.S. District Judge Michael H. Watson has not yet ruled on the request.
Each count of wire fraud carries a maximum sentence of 20 years. The passport fraud charge is punishable by up to 10 years. Pleuffer did not respond to a request for comment.
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