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Business owner charged with fraud over pandemic aid grants

October 5, 2021 GMT

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A Mississippi business owner has been indicted on fraud charges after the state auditor said she submitted false applications for pandemic relief money.

Ethel Cain turned herself in for arrest Monday night at the Bolivar County Sheriff’s Department, Auditor Shad White said in a news release Tuesday.

“This is my office’s first case arresting someone for COVID stimulus fraud,” White said. “Others out there thinking of stealing stimulus funds should know: It doesn’t have to be our last.”

The auditor’s office is demanding that Cain pay nearly $50,400, which covers $38,500 for allegedly misspent money plus interest and investigative costs.

Cain’s company, Lifeline Financial Freedom Solutions, is based in Mound Bayou. The Associated Press called the business Tuesday to seek comment from Cain, but nobody answered after several rings. AP also left a phone message at the sheriff’s office to ask whether Cain is represented by an attorney.

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White said Cain’s company fraudulently submitted grant applications for other businesses to seek money from the “Back to Business” grant program funded by the federal government and administered by Mississippi Development Authority. The auditor said Cain’s company knowingly submitted grant applications for some ineligible businesses. He said the company also submitted multiple applications on behalf the same business.

MDA and a law firm reported Lifeline Financial Freedom Solutions to the auditor’s office after they denied several grant applications from the company. Cain submitted nearly $400,000 worth of potentially fraudulent applications, and most were denied, White said.