by: Rachel Stockman Updated:FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. —
Federal investigators say a local charity operator stole hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars.
Through martial arts like Judo, the Georgia Martial Arts Foundation in Cumming, was supposed to be helping troubled youth with substance abuse problems, but investigators say the Jessica Regas, one of the charity’s founders, helped her self to up to $1 million.
“She feels absolutely horrendous about what happened,” said Dennis Scheib, a close family friend, and her attorney. Scheib says Regas agreed to a plea deal, and the amount stolen, was closer to half a million dollars.
Regas also the charity did help many troubled youth for years.
“She is 68 - never been in any trouble in her life-- and just got caught up in a scenario that just got out of hand. She doesn’t offer any excused for it,” Scheib said.
According to court records, obtained only by Channel 2 Action News, from 2004 to 2013, Regas, through the charity, received about $100,000 from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services federal grant program.
“You are talking $125,000 a year, some of it went in to judo, some of it went to deal with the kids , some of it went to their own personal things like eating, they didn’t buy rings with it not a lavish style,” said Scheib, the woman’s attorney, who admitted for the last several years the money was used for personal gain.
Scheib said someone from Cherokee County, who was trying to gain access to the federal funds, tipped the feds off.
Former federal prosecutor Bill Thomas, says the scheme could have gone on for years more, undetected.
“There is people to give the money out but there is not enough oversight,” Thomas told Channel 2’s Rachel Stockman.
Regas agreed to a plea deal, that must be approved by a federal judge, which required her to pay $600,000 in restitution to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She faces a maximum of 10 years in prison.