The former mayor of Stonecrest, Georgia, a small city outside Atlanta, was sentenced Wednesday to four years and nine months in prison for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal money intended to help his city cope with the pandemic, authorities said.
The former mayor, Jason Lary, who pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Atlanta in January to wire fraud, stealing federal money and conspiracy, used the money he took to pay off his mortgage on his lakeside home and outstanding tax liabilities, prosecutors said.
In addition to the prison time, he was ordered by U.S. District Judge Thomas Thrash to pay nearly $120,000 in restitution and serve three years of supervised release.
“Mr. Lary has accepted full responsibility for his conduct and looks forward to putting this chapter of his life behind in order to redeem himself to those he has disappointed,” Dwight Thomas, his lawyer, wrote in an email.
Keri Farley, the special agent in charge of the FBI in Atlanta, said in a statement released by the Justice Department, “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.”
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. Lary, 60, who had been mayor since 2016, routed relief funds through a private company he formed, authorities said.
The company’s bookkeeper, Lania Boone, transferred about $108,000 to a mortgage servicing company, which both Lary and Boone knew was a tactic for him to pay off the mortgage, according to the authorities. Lary also directed about $7,600 to be used by 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 Boone did not immediately reply to a request for comment about Lary’s sentencing Wednesday night.
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.
This past fall, authorities said, they seized about $480,000 from two of the companies, Visit Us and Battleground Media. Lary resigned as mayor in January.
Since the onset of the pandemic, the federal government has spent about $5 trillion in aid for households, businesses, schools and other institutions. In March, the Justice Department named a prosecutor to pursue cases related to fraud and attempted fraud that resulted in a loss of at least $8 billion.
Lary will not report to prison until at least Dec. 15 so he can continue being treated for prostate cancer and lymphedema, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Wednesday.
A former insurance executive, Lary was a major figure locally beyond his role as mayor. He led the effort to get Stonecrest incorporated in 2016, making it the first majority Black city created by its own residents since Reconstruction, according to a 2017 article in The Atlantic.