STONECREST, d. – Federal authorities have sued the mayor of Stonecrest, Georgia on charges that he stole hundreds of thousands of dollars in COVID-19 relief efforts to the city.
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According to allegations filed in court, the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners gave the city of Stonecrest $6.2 million in COVID relief funds under the CARES Act in July 2020.
The emergency funds were intended to cover costs needed during the public health emergency since the onset of the pandemic, and in September 2020 Mayor Jason Lary signed a resolution laying down a plan for the funds. Under this plan, officials say $1 million would go to the Stonecrest Cares program for mask distribution, COVID-19 education, testing and other purposes. The plan also raised $5 million to support small businesses in the city.
However, federal authorities say Lary was working behind the scenes with an organization known as Municipal Resource Partners Corporation, Inc. (“MRPC”) to disburse the relief funds. Despite hundreds of companies applying for the funds, officials say most were turned down and Lary reportedly helped decide which organizations received the funding.
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In one case, officials allege that Lary gave a church in Stonecrest $150,000 in emergency funds on the condition that they give one-third of the money to a company called Real Estate Management Consultants LLC, which was controlled by Lary.
“Lary has reportedly falsely stated that the $50,000 would be used to help with home repairs for people they could not afford due to COVID-19,” officials said in a statement. “In reality, Lary would have used the money for his own purposes, including to pay off his outstanding federal, state and local tax debts.”
In another case, Lary would have given a church $50,000. The church was then told to contribute $4,500 to REMC for rent assistant, which officials say the mayor paid his own cost of ownership and dues.
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“Lary would have abused the power and trust bestowed on him as mayor of Stonecrest to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars intended for COVID-19 relief,” acting U.S. Attorney Kurt R. Erskine said. “Instead of helping the deserving citizens of Stonecrest, Lary is said to have funneled money away for his own use, including to pay off his taxes and the mortgage on his lake house.”
Officials also accused Lary and others acting on his behalf of defrauding companies that received grants under the Small Business Program by asking them to contribute to Stonecrest-related marketing and advertising. However, instead of the money going to that purpose, researchers say the contributions went to entities called Visit Us, Inc. and Battleground Media, LLC, also operated by Lary.
In all, officials estimate that Stonecrest companies were defrauded with hundreds of thousands of dollars in emergency funds. In one case, officials say Lania Boone, MRPC’s bookkeeper, used the company’s bank account to transfer more than $100,000 to a mortgage service company, which Lary allegedly used to pay off his mortgage. Around the same time, federal authorities say Lary used some of the relief funds to pay off Boone’s son’s college tuition and rent.
“It’s very disturbing when an elected official, someone who is sworn to protect the community they serve, breaks oath by stealing relief funds intended to help their community during a global pandemic,” said Chris Hacker, Special Representative in charge from FBI Atlanta. “The allegations against Lary and Boone indicate abuse of a position of trust and blatant disrespect for the law, which will not be tolerated by the FBI.”
Lary is indicted on federal charges of fraud, conspiracy and theft of federal programs. Boone, is also indicted on a federal charge of conspiracy to steal aid funds.
The case is under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
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