Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Stonecrest Mayor Lary faces federal charges of diverting Covid relief money

Stonecrest Mayor Jason Lary appeared in court Wednesday on criminal charges of wire fraud, conspiracy, and federal program theft related to $6.2 million in COVID-19 relief assistance received by the city.

Lania Boone, a bookkeeper for the Municipal Resource Partners Corporation, Inc., an entity contracted by Stonecrest to disburse the relief funds, has been charged with conspiring with Lary to steal the money.

Federal prosecutors said that approximately $108,000 in stolen funds were used to pay off the mortgage on a lakefront home that Lary owned, $50,000 went to paying Lary's back taxes, and $7,600 went to pay college tuition and rent for Boone's son. Money was also used for political purposes, they said.

Prosecutors allege that Lary recruited a CEO for MRPC and opened its bank accounts, while working behind the scenes to ensure that Boone would be hired as its bookkeeper.

"Lary allegedly abused the power and trust conferred on him as Mayor of Stonecrest to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars intended for COVID-19 relief," said Acting U.S. Attorney Kurt Erskine.

"Instead of providing aid to Stonecrest's deserving citizens, Lary allegedly diverted funds for his own use, including to pay off his taxes and the mortgage on his lakefront home," Erskine said.

The government's criminal information centers around millions granted to the City of Stonecrest by the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners in July 2020. In September, Lary signed a disbursement plan to give $5 million to a Small Business Program and $1 million to the Stonecrest Cares Program for mask distribution, COVID-19 education and testing, and other purposes.

Businesses were asked to make a "contribution" to Visit Us. Inc. and Battleground Media, LLC, entities that Lary controlled. The mayor told businesses the money would be used for marketing and advertising Stonecrest, but some the funds were allegedly used to help pay for political advertising, prosecutors allege.

In what federal investigators said was an abuse of his position, Lary allegedly told churches they were required to give back a portion of the relief funds for purposes he specified.

In one instance, Lary directed a church to give $50,000 to Real Estate Management Consultants LLC, without disclosing that it was a company he controlled. He told the church that the money would help people with home repairs, but funds were instead used to pay off Lary's outstanding federal, state and local tax liabilities, prosecutors said.

In another instance, Lary is charged with telling a church that it should pay $4,500 to REMC for rent assistance. Prosecutors said Lary spend the funds on his own property and used some of the money to pay his dues to the Georgia Campaign Finance Committee.

"It is very troubling when an elected official, someone sworn to protect the community they serve, violates that oath by stealing relief funds intended to aid their community during a global pandemic," said Chris Hacker, the Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Atlanta office.

"The allegations against Lary and Boone indicate an abuse of a position of trust and blatant disrespect for the law, which will not be tolerated by the FBI," Hacker said.