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Georgia mayor resigns day before fraud hearing in court

January 4, 2022 GMT

STONECREST, Ga. (AP) — A suburban Atlanta mayor announced he’s resigning from office Tuesday, a day before he was scheduled to appear before a federal judge on fraud charges.

Stonecrest Mayor Jason Lary waived indictment in November on federal charges that he stole $650,000 in federal coronavirus relief funds as part of a kickback scheme. He pleaded not guilty, but was scheduled to return to U.S. District Court on Wednesday for a change of plea hearing.

Lary, 59, told an online news conference that his resignation will take effect at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

“I ask that you all measure me by the whole story,” Lary said Tuesday. “I did the best that I could do with what we had in place.”

Lary is the first mayor of Stonecrest, a DeKalb County city of about 55,000 that was incorporated in 2017.

Federal prosecutors have said Lary asked businesses and churches that got some of Stonecrest’s $6.2 million in coronavirus relief funding to give portions of the money to three companies the mayor had created — Visit Us, Battleground Media and Real Estate Management Consultants. Lary said the companies would use the money for tourism promotion, advertising and rent assistance.

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Prosecutors say Lary pocketed $650,000, using some of the money to pay off the $108,000 mortgage on his lake house, and other funds to pay back taxes.

Lary’s defense attorney, Dwight Thomas, had hinted the mayor would not contest the charges. Thomas previously told reporters: ”He accepts full responsibility, and there won’t be a jury trial.”

An internal Stonecrest investigation found evidence of poor record keeping, misuse and the kickback scheme in Stonecrest’s program to distribute funds it received last year from the federal CARES Act program, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

The report found employees entered contracts and distributed funds without necessary approval from the City Council or city manager. Several employees were fired or replaced.

Prosecutors said Lary helped decide where the relief funds were directed, including an unsolicited $150,000 grant award to his church.