Stonecrest mayor pleads guilty to federal fraud charges

July 13, 2022 GMT
FILE - Jason Lary, the chairman for Stonecrest Yes, speaks near Stonecrest Mall in Lithonia, Ga., on October 4, 2016. The former suburban Atlanta mayor was sentenced to nearly five years in prison on Wednesday, July 13, 2022 for masterminding a scheme to steal nearly $925,000 of the $6.2 million in COVID-19 relief funds that his city was tasked with handing out. (Hyosub Shin/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, File)
FILE - Jason Lary, the chairman for Stonecrest Yes, speaks near Stonecrest Mall in Lithonia, Ga., on October 4, 2016. The former suburban Atlanta mayor was sentenced to nearly five years in prison on Wednesday, July 13, 2022 for masterminding a scheme to steal nearly $925,000 of the $6.2 million in COVID-19 relief funds that his city was tasked with handing out. (Hyosub Shin/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, File)
FILE - Jason Lary, the chairman for Stonecrest Yes, speaks near Stonecrest Mall in Lithonia, Ga., on October 4, 2016. The former suburban Atlanta mayor was sentenced to nearly five years in prison on Wednesday, July 13, 2022 for masterminding a scheme to steal nearly $925,000 of the $6.2 million in COVID-19 relief funds that his city was tasked with handing out. (Hyosub Shin/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, File)
FILE - Jason Lary, the chairman for Stonecrest Yes, speaks near Stonecrest Mall in Lithonia, Ga., on October 4, 2016. The former suburban Atlanta mayor was sentenced to nearly five years in prison on Wednesday, July 13, 2022 for masterminding a scheme to steal nearly $925,000 of the $6.2 million in COVID-19 relief funds that his city was tasked with handing out. (Hyosub Shin/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, File)
FILE - Jason Lary, the chairman for Stonecrest Yes, speaks near Stonecrest Mall in Lithonia, Ga., on October 4, 2016. The former suburban Atlanta mayor was sentenced to nearly five years in prison on Wednesday, July 13, 2022 for masterminding a scheme to steal nearly $925,000 of the $6.2 million in COVID-19 relief funds that his city was tasked with handing out. (Hyosub Shin/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, File)

ATLANTA (AP) — A former suburban Atlanta mayor was sentenced to nearly five years in prison on Wednesday for masterminding a scheme to steal nearly $925,000 of the $6.2 million in COVID-19 relief funds that his city was tasked with handing out.

U.S. District Judge Thomas W. Thrash sentenced Stonecrest ex-mayor Jason Lary to 57 months in federal prison and ordered him to pay nearly $120,000 in restitution.

Lary, 60, pleaded guilty in January to wire fraud, federal program theft and conspiracy to commit federal program theft. He was the first mayor in Stonecrest, a 59,000-resident city in southeastern DeKalb County that incorporated in 2017.

“What he did was deplorable. Absolutely deplorable,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Thrash as remarking. “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.”

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Defense lawyers had argued Lary should spend no time in prison, citing his cancer treatments, cooperation with prosecutors, early payment of some restitution and prior community service.

Defense attorney Dwight Thomas argued in court papers that Lary had been “humbled, humiliated, isolated and treated like a leper” since his crimes became public.

Arguing against leniency, Assistant U.S. Attorney Trevor Wilmot characterized Lary as “not forthcoming” in his conversations with investigators.

Wilmot said the residents of Stonecrest had deserved an honest and dependable mayor.

“What they got instead, unfortunately, was a crook,” he said.

Lary asked businesses and churches that got some of Stonecrest’s funding to give portions of the money to three companies the mayor had created — Visit Us, Battleground Media and Real Estate Management Consultants.

Lary said the companies would use the money for tourism promotion, advertising and rent assistance. But prosecutors say he funneled $650,000 of the funds to himself, using some to pay back taxes and the mortgage on his lake house.

An internal city investigation preceded Lary’s federal charges, with some officials trying to force him out or curtail his powers. Lary took medical leave in April 2020.

Lary won’t be required to report to prison until after Dec. 15, giving him time for more cancer treatments.

Wednesday, Lary apologized to his family, his friends and the residents of Stonecrest.

“I let us down,” he said.

Lania Boone, the wife of a former city official, pleaded guilty to conspiracy in February. She’s scheduled to be sentenced on August 15.