Former Stonecrest mayor sentenced to jail for stealing COVID-19 relief funds | USAO-NDGA

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ATLANTA — Jason Lary, the former mayor of the city of Stonecrest, has been convicted of using his elected office to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal COVID-19 relief funds allocated to the city.

“Lary betrayed the trust placed in him by the citizens of Stonecrest by stealing the very funds intended to help his constituents weather the COVID-19 pandemic,” U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Buchanan said. “The people of Stonecrest deserved better, and corrupt officials can expect serious consequences if they use their offices to commit crimes.”

“It is extremely discouraging when an elected official, someone who has sworn to protect the community they serve, violates that oath by stealing relief funds meant to help their community,” said Keri Farley, Special Agent in Charge. from the FBI Atlanta. “This conviction holds Lary responsible for abusing his position of trust and a flagrant disrespect for the law.”

According to U.S. Attorney Buchanan, the charges and other information presented to the court: In March 2020, the President signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act in response to the economic fallout from COVID -19 pandemic. Under the CARES Act, the federal government distributed COVID-19 relief funds to American individuals, federal agencies, and state and local governments, including $125 million to DeKalb County. The federal government has authorized DeKalb County to provide more of these relief funds to its municipalities. In July 2020, the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners voted to release a portion of relief funds to its municipalities, including a $6.2 million grant to Stonecrest.

Stonecrest was required to spend the relief funds in accordance with the CARES Act. In general, according to the Treasury Department, relief funds could “only be used to cover costs that – [were] necessary expenses incurred due to the public health emergency. . . . and were incurred during the period in which [began] on March 1, 2020, and [ended] on December 30, 2020.” Examples of eligible expenses were medical expenses, public health expenses, and small business grants to reimburse business interruption costs caused by required closures.

In September 2020 Jason Lary, then Mayor of Stonecrest, signed a resolution acknowledging these CARES Act requirements. The resolution also adopted a fundraising plan for most of Stonecrest’s relief funds. The plan provided $1 million to the Stonecrest Cares program for mask distribution, COVID-19 education and testing, and other purposes. In practice, the Stonecrest Cares program has directed relief funds to churches and non-profit organizations in and around Stonecrest. The plan also provided $5 million to the COVID-19 CARES Act Small Business Program (“Small Business Program”).

Stonecrest did not disburse the $6 million allocated to the Stonecrest Cares program and the small business program. Instead, Lary worked behind the scenes to form a private company, Municipal Resource Partners Corporation, Inc. (“MRPC”), recruit its CEO, open its bank accounts and ensure that Lania Boone, his co-conspirator condemned, would be hired as an accountant of the MRPC. Then, Lary got the city to enter into a contract with the MPRC to disburse the relief funds as directed by Stonecrest.

On or about November 2020, Stonecrest posted a request on its website for businesses to apply for relief funds under the Small Business Scheme. The application included the following question: “Are you willing to allocate 25% of your grant to marketing your business?” Hundreds of businesses applied for relief funds, but most applicants were rejected. Ignoring contributions from the official selection committee, from around November 2020 to around February 2021, Boone signed dozens of checks on behalf of the MRPC, funneling relief funds to individuals, businesses, churches and charitable organizations. nonprofit of their choice.

Lary used three different methods to steal the funds Stonecrest donated to MRPC. First, Lary conspired with Boone to steal relief funds before they were disbursed by the MRPC. In January 2021, Boone used his access to one of the MRPC’s bank accounts to wire approximately $108,000 in relief funds to a mortgage services company. Lary and Boone knew the purpose of the transfer was to pay off the mortgage on a lakeside home owned by Lary. Around the same time, Lary directed approximately $7,600 in stolen relief funds to be used for Boone’s son’s tuition and rent.

Second, Lary told churches that had received relief funds from the Stonecrest Cares program that they were required to contribute a portion of those funds for the purposes identified by Lary. For example, Lary presented a check for $150,000 in relief funds to “Church 1,” on the condition that $50,000 be given to a company called Real Estate Management Consultants, LLC (“REMC”). Lary did not tell Church 1 at that time that he actually controlled REMC. And although Lary falsely stated that the $50,000 would be used to help with home repairs for people who couldn’t afford it due to COVID-19, in reality he used the money for his own purposes, including to repay its outstanding federal, state, and local tax debts.

As another example, Lary presented a check from MRPC for $50,000 to “Church 2.” Later, someone acting on Lary’s behalf told Church 2 to donate $4,500 of the relief funds to REMC, allegedly for rent assistance. Instead, Lary spent the money to pay for his own real estate expenses and Georgia campaign finance committee dues.

Third, Lary and others acting on his behalf have solicited relief funds from businesses that have received grants under the Small Business Program. Lary and others incorrectly claimed that the money would be each company’s “contribution” to Stonecrest-related marketing and advertising. Yet Lary and others requested that these “contributions” not go to Stonecrest, but to entities called Visit Us, Inc. and Battleground Media, LLC. Lary did not tell the companies that he controlled these entities. In total, the companies have been scammed out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in relief funds. Relief funds deposited in Visit Us and Battleground Media accounts were used by Lary for his benefit and that of his associates. For example, Lary used relief funds held by Visit Us to pay for an associate’s political advertising.

Around October 2021, the United States seized approximately $480,000 in fraud proceeds held in Visit Us and Battleground Media bank accounts.

Jason Lary, 60, of Stonecrest, Georgia, was sentenced to four years and nine months in prison followed by three years of probation. He was ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $119,607.69. Lary pleaded guilty to wire fraud, federal program theft and conspiracy on January 5, 2022. Lania Boone, Lary’s co-conspirator, pleaded guilty to conspiracy on February 11, 2022. She is scheduled to be sentenced August 15, 2022.

This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Trevor C. Wilmot prosecuted the case.

On May 17, 2021, the Attorney General established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force to mobilize Department of Justice resources in partnership with government agencies to scale up enforcement and prevention efforts. pandemic-related fraud. The task force strengthens efforts to investigate and prosecute the most culpable domestic and international criminal actors and assists agencies administering relief programs to prevent fraud, among other methods, by increasing and integrating coordination mechanisms existing ones, identifying resources and techniques to uncover fraudulent actors and their agendas, and sharing and leveraging information and knowledge gained from previous enforcement efforts. For more information on the Department’s response to the pandemic, please visit https://www.justice.gov/coronavirus

Anyone with information about alleged attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) hotline at 866-720-5721 or via NCDF’s online complaint form at: https://www. .justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.

For more information, please contact the US Attorney’s Office of Public Affairs at [email protected] or (404) 581-6016. The Internet address for the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia is http://www.justice.gov/usao-ndga.

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