Former Stonecrest mayor pleads guilty to federal fraud charges

STONECREST, Ga. — Former Stonecrest mayor Jason Lary has pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges just hours after resigning Wednesday.

Lary announced his resignation to the city on a Zoom call Tuesday. Lary is accused of stealing more than $650,000 in COVID-19 relief funds meant to help the people of Stonecrest who he was supposed to serve. Instead, prosecutors said Lary used the money to cover his own tax liabilities and pay off the mortgage on his lake house.

On Wednesday, Channel 2′s Tom Jones was in the courtroom as Lary pleaded guilty to wire fraud, conspiracy to commit federal program theft and federal program theft. His sentencing hearing has been set for May 2.

Stonecrest residents that Jones talked to were outraged.

“That money was supposed to go to people like us. Hardworking people like us,” Will Morrell said. “But he was using it for his own personal needs.”

Jones tried to get a comment from Lary’s attorney after court, but he refused to make a statement.

Lary faces up to 35 years in prison on all three counts.

“Hopefully, he gets all of that,” Morrell said.

Federal prosecutors said that in addition to paying off personal debt, Lary conducted a scheme where he asked small businesses and churches to whom he allocated grants to give 25% of the money to companies connected to himself and co-conspirators.

One of the grants was to his church, which he awarded $150,000. He then asked the church to give $50,000 back to one of the companies included in the scheme.

Lary previously pleaded not guilty to the charges, but his attorney, Dwight Thomas, indicated on Nov. 10 that he would take a plea deal.

Lary was supposed to be in office until the end of 2023.

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Lary’s last public address to his constituents delivered one last bombshell moment to his tenure.

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The 45-minute Zoom call in which he announced his resignation was hacked and briefly displayed a video game and then a brief snippet of pornography.

Lary continued with the meeting after an IT tech fixed the problem.

“As you can tell with technology, it can be immature and ridiculous, and that’s fine,” Lary said.

The city will hold a special election to select a new mayor.

Channel 2′s Audrey Washington called and emailed Stonecrest officials about the announcement and the hack.

“We have no response about the Mayor’s resignation,” city officials said. “We are putting measures into place to prevent what we experienced during the meeting.”