ATLANTA — Jason Lary, the former mayor of Stonecrest, and Lania Boone, an accountant with the entity that administered COVID-19 relief funds granted to Stonecrest, have pleaded guilty to charges related to the theft of emergency relief funds. of pandemic.
“Lary’s guilty plea was the first to right the wrongs committed against the people of Stonecrest, who were unjustly deprived of hundreds of thousands of dollars intended to provide relief against COVID-19,” the US attorney said. 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.”
“CARES Act funds were intended to help people and businesses affected by the pandemic, not to line the pockets of officials tasked with running a community,” said Philip Wislar, acting special agent in charge of the FBI Atlanta. . “The FBI will do everything in its power to ensure that stolen funds are returned to the public and those involved in this type of criminal behavior are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
According to U.S. Attorney Erskine, the charges and other information presented to the court: The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act was passed in March 2020 to address the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the CARES Act, the federal government distributed $125 million in COVID-19 relief funds 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.” Eligible expenses included medical expenses, public health expenses, and small business grants to reimburse business interruption costs caused by required closures.
In September 2020, Lary, as mayor, signed a resolution acknowledging the requirements of the CARES Act and adopting a fundraising plan for Stonecrest 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, the city contracted with Municipal Resource Partners Corporation, Inc. (“MRPC”) to provide accounting services and to disburse relief funds as directed by Stonecrest. Prior to signing the contract, 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 accountant.
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. From around November 2020 through or around February 2021, Boone signed dozens of checks in the name of MRPC, funneling millions of dollars in relief funds to individuals, businesses, churches and nonprofits. Lary helped decide where relief funds were directed.
Abusing the authority vested in him as mayor, Lary devised and executed a scheme to steal the relief funds after they were distributed by the MRPC. First, Lary told churches that had received relief funds through the Stonecrest Cares program that they were required to donate 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. 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, Lary used the money for his own purposes, including paying off his 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. Lary spent the money to pay for his own real estate expenses and Georgia campaign finance committee dues.
In addition, Lary has sought relief funds from businesses that have received grants under the Small Business Program. Lary falsely claimed that the money would be each company’s “contribution” to Stonecrest-related marketing and advertising. But Lary and others have 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. Lary used relief funds deposited in Visit Us and Battleground Media accounts for his own benefit and that of others. For example, Lary used relief funds held by Visit Us to pay for an associate’s political advertising.
Finally, Lary conspired with Boone, the MRPC accountant, to steal the 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 about $7,600 in stolen relief funds to be paid by Visit Us for Boone’s son’s tuition and rent.
Jason Lary, 59, of Stonecrest, Georgia, is scheduled to be sentenced May 2, 2022 at 10 a.m. Lania Boone, 60, of Decatur, Georgia, pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to commit federal program robbery and is expected to be sentenced. May 12, 2022 at 2 p.m.
This matter is under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Trevor C. Wilmot is prosecuting the case.
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.