COVID relief scams land public employees in legal trouble – Tennessee Lookout

Rhea County’s longest-serving CEO is heading to federal prison for fraudulently obtaining more than $650,000 in government coronavirus relief funding and using cash to buy cryptocurrency.

U.S. District Judge Charles Achley Jr. on Thursday sentenced former RIA County Executive George Thacker, 59, to 33 months in federal prison for fraud. Thacker served as the county executive from 2010 until his arrest earlier this year.

Thacker admitted as part of the plea deal that he applied for the COVID relief funds while serving as the county executive and claimed the money would be used to pay employees and keep his hotel business up and running. It was a lie, Assistant US Attorney Kyle Wilson wrote in the sentencing memo.

“He took advantage of his own business and stole more than $650,000 in public funds — money designed to help businesses and workers suffering in the midst of a once-in-a-generation pandemic,” Wilson wrote. “He was stealing money from the same public he was elected to serve, and he was using his work as a means to do so.”

Authorities believe that up to $80 billion of the $800 billion authorized for COVID relief has been distributed to fraudsters in the United States and abroad and used to pay for luxury cars, mansions and expensive vacations.

Thacker used the COVID relief funds to buy cryptocurrency and deposit the funds into a personal investment fund, according to court records.

“COVID-19 relief fraud is a serious crime,” said Trey Hamilton, acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee. “Mr. Thacker fraud scheme exploited a relief program designed to alleviate the economic suffering of all American workers and businesses.”

Ashley allows Thacker to come to prison in December. He remains under pretrial supervision until then.

Thacker’s case is one of dozens being sued across Tennessee in what the Department of Justice called an “epic deception” of coronavirus relief funding that has occurred since Congress began allowing the money to help businesses and citizens affected by the 2020 pandemic.

Authorities believe that up to $80 billion of the $800 billion authorized for COVID relief has been distributed to fraudsters in the United States and abroad and used to pay for luxury cars, mansions and expensive vacations.

Memphis IRS employees arrested in fraud investigation

This week, the Department of Justice announced the arrest of five Internal Revenue Service employees in Memphis as part of an ongoing investigation into coronavirus relief fraud.

The five combined stole nearly $500,000 in COVID relief funds and used the cash for vacations and luxury goods, according to court records.

Brian Salisbury, 46, was working as an IRS risk analyst in Memphis when he received $171,400 in COVID relief money that he claimed was for employees of a company he owned. Court records said there were no employees, and Saulsberry used the money instead “for personal purposes and expenses, including making payments on cars, including a Mercedes-Benz.”

So far, Saulsberry has defended his innocence in the case, which is due to go to trial in December.

The IRS employees accused in these cases… have abused the trust the public had placed in them

Justice Department attorney Kenneth Bullett Jr

Courtney Quincy Westmoreland, 38, was working as a “liaison representative” for the IRS office in Memphis when she received $11,500 in COVID relief funds that she used to purchase “manicures, food, wine, luxury household goods, and clothing,” according to court records. Court records showed that she also collected more than $16,000 in COVID-related unemployment benefits while working for the IRS.

She has struck a plea bargain for wire fraud and is expected to file her plea in November in US District Court in Memphis.

Fatina Hewitt, 35, was working as an administrative and programs assistant for the IRS in Memphis when she fraudulently received $28,900 in COVID relief money.

Court records stated: “Hewitt spent the loan money on Gucci clothes on a trip to Las Vegas.”

She faces a ruling in US District Court in Memphis in January.

Roderick DeMarco White II, 27, was an IRS employee in Memphis as a customer service representative when he fraudulently collected $66,666 in COVID relief funds, which he used to purchase “personal items, including a Gucci bag.”

White Faces ruled in US District Court in Memphis in December.

Tina Humes, 56, received $123,612 in COVID relief money while working as a Lead Department and Program Assistant in Memphis. Court records stated that she “spent the money on jewelry and trips to Las Vegas.” She will be sentenced in US District Court in Memphis on October 28.

“The IRS employees accused in these cases … abused the trust the public had placed in them,” Kenneth Bullett Jr., a Department of Justice attorney, said in a statement. “(The Department of Justice) is committed to maintaining public confidence and protecting pandemic relief programs for the American people.”

Kevin Ritz, the US Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, said IRS employees acted “out of pure greed” and “misused their position.”

“Our office will not hesitate to prosecute and charge individuals who steal from our country’s taxpayers,” Ritz said.