Federal officials have arraigned Stonecrest Mayor Jason Lary on federal charges of wire fraud, conspiracy, and federal program theft related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This, according to a press release that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia published Wednesday.
“The charges relate to a scheme to allegedly steal federal relief funds granted to Stonecrest to address the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lania Boone, a bookkeeper for the entity hired by Stonecrest to disburse the relief funds, has also been arraigned on a federal charge of conspiring with Lary to steal relief funds,” the press release said.
Lary allegedly stole hundreds of thousands of dollars intended for COVID-19 relief and diverted that money to pay off his taxes and the mortgage on his lakefront home, according to the press release.
Under the CARES Act, the federal government distributed COVID-19 relief funds to individual Americans, federal agencies, and state and local governments, including $125 million to DeKalb County. The federal government permitted DeKalb County to disburse these relief funds to its municipalities.
In July 2020, the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners voted to disburse some of the relief funds to its municipalities, including a $6.2 million grant to Stonecrest. They could only use that money on expenditures necessary to the public health emergency, the press release said.
The plan provided $1 million to the Stonecrest Cares Program for mask distribution, COVID-19 education and testing, and other purposes. The Stonecrest Cares Program 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, according to the press release.
“Stonecrest did not disburse the $6 million allocated to the Stonecrest Cares Program and Small Business Program. Instead, the city contracted with Municipal Resource Partners Corporation, Inc. (“MRPC”) to provide accounting services and to disburse the relief funds as directed by Stonecrest. Before the contract was signed, Lary allegedly worked behind the scenes to assist MRPC, including by recruiting its CEO, opening its bank accounts, and ensuring that Lania Boone would be hired as MRPC’s bookkeeper,” the press release said.
“In or about November 2020, Stonecrest published an application on its website for businesses to apply for relief funds under the Small Business Program. The application included the question, ‘are you willing to allocate 25 percent of your grant to marketing your business?’ Hundreds of businesses applied for relief funds, but most of the applicants were rejected. From about November 2020, until in or about February 2021, Lania Boone signed dozens of checks on behalf of MRPC, directing millions of dollars of relief funds to individuals, businesses, churches, and non-profit organizations. Lary allegedly helped decide where the relief funds were directed.”
Lary, the press release went on to say, allegedly abused his position to devise and execute a scheme to steal relief funds after the MRPC distributed them. Lary allegedly told churches that received relief funds that they must contribute a portion of those funds for purposes that Lary identified.
In addition, Lary and others acting on his behalf allegedly solicited relief funds from businesses that received grants under the Small Business Program.
“Lary and others allegedly falsely claimed that the money would be each business’s ‘contribution’ to Stonecrest-related marketing and advertising. But Lary and others asked that these ‘contributions’ be given not to Stonecrest, but to entities called Visit Us, Inc., and Battleground Media, LLC. Lary allegedly did not tell the businesses that he controlled these entities. In total, businesses were allegedly defrauded out of hundreds of thousands of dollars of relief funds. The relief funds deposited into the Visit Us and Battleground Media accounts were allegedly used by Lary to benefit himself and others. For example, Lary allegedly used relief funds held by Visit Us to pay for an associate’s political advertising,” the press release said.
“Finally, Lary allegedly conspired with Lania Boone, MRPC’s bookkeeper, to steal relief funds before they were disbursed by MRPC. In January 2021, Boone allegedly used her access to one of MRPC’s bank accounts to wire transfer approximately $108,000 of relief funds to a mortgage servicing company. Lary and Boone allegedly knew the purpose of the transfer was to pay off the mortgage on a lakefront home owned by Lary. Around the same time, Lary allegedly directed approximately $7,600 in stolen relief funds to be paid by Visit Us for Boone’s son’s college tuition and rent.”
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