OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.
A former Democrat mayor from Georgia has been sentenced to nearly five years in federal prison for stealing COVID-19 relief funds that were intended for local businesses and churches.
Jason Lary, the former mayor of Stonecrest, pleaded guilty in the United States District Court in Atlanta in January to wire fraud, stealing federal money, and conspiracy.
Prosecutors revealed that Lary stole nearly $120,000 and used the money to pay off his mortgage on his lakeside home and outstanding tax liabilities.
In court, Lary admitted stealing nearly $1 million in relief money by requiring needy Stonecrest churches and businesses to kick back a portion of their grant money to companies he controlled.
Lary will report to prison in early December so that he can continue being treated for prostate cancer and lymphedema.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Thrash sentenced Lary to 57 months in prison and ordered him to pay restitution for all of the stolen funds.
“What he did was deplorable. Absolutely deplorable,” Thrash said during sentencing. “At the time of the greatest medical and economic catastrophe in generations, Mr. Lary, instead of being the honest and respectable mayor that he was elected to be … used that as an opportunity to steal.”
The New York Times reported:
In July 2020, DeKalb County authorized a grant of $6.2 million to Stonecrest, a city of fewer than 60,000 people, for public health expenses and support for small businesses. Mr. Lary, 60, who had been mayor since 2016, routed relief funds through a private company he formed, the authorities said.
The company’s bookkeeper, Lania Boone, transferred about $108,000 to a mortgage servicing company, which both Mr. Lary and Ms. Boone knew was a tactic for him to pay off the mortgage, according to the authorities. Mr. Lary also directed about $7,600 to be used by Ms. Boone’s son for his college meal plan, tuition, and rent, according to the indictment in his case.
Lania Boone pleaded guilty to conspiracy in February, and she is scheduled to be sentenced in August. A lawyer for Ms. Boone did not immediately reply to a request for comment about Mr. Lary’s sentencing on Wednesday night.
Mr. Lary used other companies he controlled as fronts to defraud beneficiaries of government funds, directing small businesses and churches to give hundreds of thousands of dollars to his companies without admitting his involvement in them, the Justice Department said. The authorities added that he used that money to pay for outstanding tax liabilities and political advertising.
In the fall of 2021, the authorities said, they seized about $480,000 from two of the companies, Visit Us and Battleground Media. Mr. Lary resigned as mayor in January.
“Lary betrayed the trust placed in him by the citizens of Stonecrest by stealing the very funds meant to help his constituents weather the COVID-19 pandemic,” said U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Buchanan. “The people of Stonecrest deserved better, and corrupt officials can expect severe consequences for using their offices to commit crimes.”
Keri Farley, the special agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Atlanta, said in a statement: “It is extremely disheartening when an elected official, someone sworn to protect the community they serve, violates that oath by stealing relief funds intended to aid their community.”
She added, “This sentencing holds Lary accountable for abusing his position of trust and blatant disrespect for the law.”
#BREAKING: Jason Lary, founding mayor of Stonecrest, will serve nearly five years in prison for pocketing COVID-19 relief money meant for the businesses, churches and people of the city he helped create. https://t.co/M1fmOIbdVQ
— Atlanta Journal-Constitution (@ajc) July 13, 2022
Jason Lary – the first mayor of Stonecrest, a small city of about 60,000 people east of Atlanta founded through a 2016 DeKalb County ballot initiative – pleaded guilty in January to wire fraud, stealing federal program money and conspiracyhttps://t.co/x94OuChThn
— HumanityLover (@Mori4Real) July 14, 2022
Some Stonecrest residents said they thought the punishment should have been more severe.
“I don’t think he got enough time. I really don’t, because other people who did this as individuals for themselves, they got more time,” said Stonecrest resident Faye Coffield.
“We don’t know how many of those people lost their businesses or face hardship because of what he did,” Coffield added.
“Until you apologize, you haven’t taken responsibility, and we want this to be a message to everyone who lives in Stonecrest. Don’t bring it here,” another resident said.