Stonecrest man sentenced to jail for defrauding the USDA COVID-19 relief program

ATLANTA – Christopher Hayes has been sentenced for defrauding the USDA’s Coronavirus Food Relief Program and attempting to defraud the IRS’s COVID-19 relief program.

“The government has provided significant relief for Americans as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Kurt R. Erskine.  “Unfortunately, there are those who take advantage of this to defraud these programs.  Our office has placed the highest priority on prosecuting those that do so.”

“IRS-Criminal Investigation is committed to investigating fraud against COVID-19 relief programs,” said IRS-Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge James E. Dorsey.  “Our financial expertise is a key asset to the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force.  We will continue to use our financial expertise to identify fraud, trace the funds, and bring the criminals to justice.”

“The USDA COVID-19 food assistance programs were meant to keep food on American family’s tables during this unprecedented time,” said Jason Williams, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Department of Agriculture-Office of Inspector General.  “This prosecution should send a strong zero-tolerance message to those opportunistic fraudsters who would take advantage of a national emergency to enrich themselves.”

According to Acting U.S. Attorney Erskine, the charges and other information presented in court: Hayes submitted a false claim to the USDA’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) for the claimed loss of livestock at his commercial farming operation.  CFAP provided direct relief to producers who faced price declines and additional marketing costs due to COVID-19.  Hayes did not own or operate a commercial farming operation and did not have losses associated with any livestock when he made a claim under CFAP. 

In addition, Hayes submitted a fraudulent IRS Form 7200, which, when used legitimately, allows an employer to request an advance payment of employer credits under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).  The FFCRA provides small and midsize employers refundable tax credits that reimburse them, dollar-for-dollar, for the cost of providing paid sick and family leave wages to their employees for leave related to COVID-19.  In total, Hayes attempted to obtain over $1.5 million in COVID-19 relief funding.  

This is the first completed prosecution for fraud on these two COVID-19 relief programs in the country.

Christopher Hayes, 35, of Stonecrest, Georgia, has been sentenced to two years, six months in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $248,739.  Hayes was convicted on these charges on May 3, 2021, after he pleaded guilty.

This case is being investigated by the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation and U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sarah Klapman and Christopher J. Huber, Deputy Chief of the Complex Frauds Section, are prosecuting the case.

On May 17, 2021, the Attorney General established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force to marshal the resources of the Department of Justice in partnership with agencies across government to enhance efforts to combat and prevent pandemic-related fraud. The Task Force bolsters efforts to investigate and prosecute the most culpable domestic and international criminal actors and assists agencies tasked with administering relief programs to prevent fraud by, among other methods, augmenting and incorporating existing coordination mechanisms, identifying resources and techniques to uncover fraudulent actors and their schemes, and sharing and harnessing information and insights gained from prior enforcement efforts. For more information on the Department’s response to the pandemic, please visit https://www.justice.gov/coronavirus.

Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form at: https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.

For further information please contact the U.S. Attorney’s Public Affairs Office at USAGAN.PressEmails@usdoj.gov or (404) 581-6016.  The Internet address for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia is http://www.justice.gov/usao-ndga.

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