Jason Lary, disgraced mayor of Stonecrest, 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.
Lary, who was once considered one of the founding fathers of Stonecrest, initially denied the allegations, but last January he confessed and pled guilty to wire fraud, federal program theft and conspiracy to commit federal program theft for stealing nearly $120,000 in COVID funds issued by the federal government.
Lary was sentenced to 57 months in prison on Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Thomas Thrash. Thrash also ordered Lary 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.”
Lary reportedly laundered money through a series of dummy corporations and used much of the money he stole to pay off a lake house in Macon, Georgia. His family, friends and legal team asked for leniency, despite the severe violation of public trust, citing concerns over his recurring bouts with prostate cancer as well as his age of 60 years old. Lary entered court supported by a cane.
He has been “humbled, humiliated, isolated and treated like a leper” ever since his guilty plea, defense attorney Dwight Thomas said in court.
Prosecutors, however, argued that the leniency plea was unfair to the people Lary had stolen from. They argued that Lary was suffering from prostate cancer at the same time he was stealing from residents of Stonefield and that granting leniency would send the wrong message.
Many of the townspeople, who feel betrayed by their former mayor’s actions, agree.
“I’m hopeful that community members will feel that the federal government took this injustice seriously,” said Malaika Wells, the president of the Stonecrest Citizens Coalition.
Some, however, think 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,” she added.
Lary offered an apology in court to both his family and the community as a whole, but has yet to offer an apology outside of the courtroom.
“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,” said one resident.
Lary was expected to begin serving his sentence in December, but that date may be pushed back due to health issues. His attorneys requested that he be able to serve his time at home, but the judge denied that request.
Lary was the first mayor of Stonecrest, a majority black community, and has already paid $46,000 of the $120,000 owed in restitution.
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