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Former Georgia mayor to spend nearly 5 years in prison for stealing COVID funds

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Former Mayor Jason Lary, once considered one of the founding fathers of Stonecrest, Georgia, has been sentenced to serve nearly five years in federal prison for stealing COVID funds that were supposed to go to local businesses and churches.

He initially denied the accusations, but last January, Lary 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. On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Thomas Thrash sentenced Lary to 57 months in prison and ordered him to pay restitution for all the money he stole.

“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.”

FOX5 Atlanta reported that Lary laundered the COVID money through dummy companies he created and that he spent much of the money he stole to pay off his lake house in Macon, Georgia.

Despite Lary's guilty plea and his violation of public trust, his family, friends, and legal team all asked for leniency. Lary is 60 years old and has suffered from recurring bouts of prostate cancer. He walked into the courthouse supported by a cane.

Lary has been “humbled, humiliated, isolated and treated like a leper” ever since he pled guilty, defense attorney Dwight Thomas said in court.

But prosecutors were not swayed by his fragile health, arguing that Lary was suffering from cancer at the same time he was stealing from the people of his city and that granting him leniency would send the wrong message.

Some of his constituents, who feel betrayed by Lary, agree.

“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 did offer an apology to his family and to the community during the hearing. He is scheduled to begin serving his sentence in December, but his health may cause further delays. His attorneys requested that Lary be allowed to serve his sentence at home, but Judge Thrash denied that request.

Lary was the first-ever mayor of the city of Stonecrest, population 59,000, the vast majority of whom are black. He has already paid back $46,000 of the $120,000 he owes in restitution.

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