Image Credit: cdc.gov
The Tennessee Conservative [By Jason Vaughn] –
Authorities are rounding up public officials who fraudulently obtained COVID relief funds and used them for personal purchases. They estimate that nearly $80 billion of the $800 billion that was given out for COVID relief was actually given to individuals who used the money to pay for vacations, high end houses, and luxury cars.
The Department of Justice calls this an “epic swindle” of COVID relief funding as dozens across the state are being prosecuted for fraud.
One of these officials is former Rhea County Executive George Thacker. Thacker was sentenced last Thursday to 33 months in federal prison for wire fraud by U.S District Judge Charles Atchley, Jr. Thacker was the county executive from 2010 until his arrest earlier in 2022.
As a part of a plea deal, Thacker admitted that he applied for COVID relief monies and said the money would be used to allow his hotel business to remain open and to pay employees. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kyle Wilson says this was not true but that Thacker instead used the more than $650,000 he received from the government to purchase cryptocurrency.
“He exploited his private business and stole over $650,000 in public funds – funds that were designed to help businesses and workers suffering in the midst of a once-in-a-generation pandemic,” Wilson wrote in his sentencing memo. “He was stealing money from the same public he was elected to serve, and he was using his business as the vehicle by which to do it.”
Thacker will remain under pretrial supervision until he reports to prison in December.
The Justice Department also recently announced the arrests of five Internal Revenue Service employees in Memphis. Court records show that the five individuals are accused of stealing almost $500,000 in COVID relief money and using the money to fund private vacations and make luxury purchases.
Brian Saulsberry, a risk analyst in Memphis, took $171,400 in funding, claiming he was going to pay employees of his business. However, there are no records of any employees, and an investigation revealed that Saulsberry spent the money “for personal items and expenditures, including making payments on cars, including a Mercedes Benz automobile.”
Saulsberry has pleaded innocent and will go to trial in December.
Courtney Quinshee Westmoreland was employed as a “contact representative” and received almost $12,000 worth of COVID relief money which she spent on “manicures, food and wine, luxury home goods, and clothing,” according to court documents. She also managed to collect over $16,000 in COVID-related unemployment benefits while employed with the IRS.
She has agreed to a plea deal and is expected to enter that plea in November.
Fatina Hewett, a management and program assistant, spent $28,900 of fraudulently obtained relief money on “Gucci clothing and a trip to Las Vegas,” court records show.
Her sentencing will take place in January.
Roderick DeMarco White, II, was a customer service representative who was given $66,666 worth of fraudulent COVID relief. He used this to buy “personal items, including a Gucci satchel.”
He will be sentenced in December.
Tina Humes was working as lead management and a program assistant. She was able to fraudulently obtain $123,612 in relief money which she spent on “jewelry and trips to Las Vegas.”
Her sentencing will be held on October 28.
Justice Department attorney Kenneth Polite, Jr., stated, “The IRS employees charged in these cases…abused the trust placed in them by the public. The Justice Department is committed to safeguarding that public trust and protecting pandemic relief programs for the American people.”
Kevin Ritz, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, says the IRS staff members acted “out of pure greed” and “abused their positions.” He continued, “Our office will not hesitate to pursue and charge individuals who steal from our nation’s taxpayers.”
About the Author: Jason Vaughn, Media Coordinator for The Tennessee Conservative ~ Jason previously worked for a legacy publishing company based in Crossville, TN in a variety of roles through his career. Most recently, he served as Deputy Director for their flagship publication. Prior, he was a freelance journalist writing articles that appeared in the Herald Citizen, the Crossville Chronicle and The Oracle among others. He graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a Bachelor’s in English-Journalism, with minors in Broadcast Journalism and History. Contact Jason at news@TennesseeConservativeNews.com