Former mayor of Stonecrest, bookkeeper plead guilty to theft of COVID-19 relief funds
STONECREST, Ga. (CBS46) – Two public officials from DeKalb County are accused of using COVID-19 relief funds to line their own pockets.
According to the Department of Justice, Jason Lary, the former mayor of Stonecrest, and Lania Boone, a bookkeeper for the entity that administered COVID-19 relief funds awarded to Stonecrest, have pleaded guilty to charges related to the theft of pandemic relief funds.
U.S. Attorney Kurt Erskine says under the CARES Act, the federal government distributed $125 million in COVID-19 relief funds to DeKalb County. 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.
According to the Department of Justice, Lary, as Mayor, signed a resolution in September 2020 acknowledging the CARES Act requirements and adopting a funding plan for 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 for churches and non-profit organizations in and around Stonecrest. The plan also provided $5 million to the Small Business Program.
The DOJ says 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 worked behind the scenes to form MRPC, recruit its CEO, open its bank accounts, and ensure that Lania Boone would be hired as MRPC’s bookkeeper.
Abusing his authority as mayor, the DOJ says Lary devised and executed a scheme to steal relief funds after they were distributed by MRPC. In addition, Lary solicited relief funds from businesses that received grants under the Small Business Program.
In total, DOJ says businesses were defrauded out of hundreds of thousands of dollars of relief funds. Lary used the relief funds deposited into the Visit Us and Battleground Media accounts, which were both controlled by Lary, to benefit himself and others. For example, Lary used relief funds held by Visit Us to pay for an associate’s political advertising. Lary also used relief funds given to a company he controlled at the time called Real Estate Management Consultants, LLC (“REMC”) to pay off his outstanding federal, state and local tax liabilities.
The DOJ says Lary also conspired with Boone, MRPC’s bookkeeper, to steal relief funds before they were disbursed by MRPC. In January 2021, Boone 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 knew the purpose of the transfer was to pay off the mortgage on a lakefront home owned by Lary. Around the same time, Lary directed approximately $7,600 in stolen relief funds to be paid by Visit Us for Boone’s son’s college tuition and rent.
Jason Lary, 59, of Stonecrest, and Lania Boone, 60, of Decatur, are both scheduled to be sentenced in May.
“Lary’s guilty plea was the first in righting the wrongs committed against the people of Stonecrest, who were wrongfully deprived of hundreds of thousands of dollars intended to provide COVID-19 relief,” said U.S. Attorney Kurt R. Erskine. “Boone’s guilty plea further demonstrates our commitment to prosecuting those who seek to exploit COVID relief programs for their own gain.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is handling this case.
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