Check writer in Stonecrest relief fund scandal gets 6 months in prison

Lania Boone paid off former mayor’s lake house with COVID aid
Lania Boone (left), Jason Lary

Credit: LinkedIn / Jason Lary

Credit: LinkedIn / Jason Lary

Lania Boone (left), Jason Lary

In a dark skirt suit and a bright blouse, Lania Boone stood before a federal judge on Friday and apologized.

She admitted to being part of the scheme that allowed Jason Lary, then the mayor of Stonecrest, to pocket COVID-19 relief funds meant to help local businesses and churches. She admitted to then taking kickbacks from Lary. She asked for mercy.

“I am incredibly saddened,” Boone said, “and I deeply regret every ounce of damage that this situation has caused.”

At that, she broke down crying. She let her attorney read the rest of the prepared statement.

Then she was sentenced to six months in prison.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas W. Thrash Jr. handed down the sentence — which also included six months of house arrest and a total of three years’ probation — during a hour-long hearing that closed another chapter of the scandal that upended DeKalb County’s newest and largest city.

Boone, the wife of Stonecrest’s now-former economic development director, had already pleaded guilty to the single count of federal program theft, which was brought against her in November 2021.

Her involvement with the unsavory saga began about a year before that.

After the city was handed about $6.2 million from DeKalb County’s allotment of federal CARES Act money, then-Mayor Lary directed Stonecrest to put a third party, the relatively new nonprofit Municipal Resources Partners Corporation (MRPC), in charge of its distribution.

Boone was hired as a consultant to MRPC, a job that involved keeping the books and writing checks to people who asked for help.

As small businesses applied for funds through the relief program, meanwhile, they were asked if they’d be willing to redirect 25% of their grants to companies that would help market their business. Many said yes.

Those supposed marketing companies were shams, prosecutors said. And they were controlled by Lary.

With Boone writing the checks, Lary was ultimately able to pocket more than $924,000 in relief funds — money that, instead of helping local churches, businesses and workers, went toward paying off the mayor’s own tax debts and the mortgage on his lake house.

Boone herself conducted the $108,000 wire transfer that completed the lake house transaction.

In exchange for her efforts, prosecutors said, Lary used about $7,600 of his own ill-gotten funds to help cover a semester of tuition and rent for Boone’s college-aged son.

During Friday’s hearing, Boone and her attorney, Deana Timberlake-Wiley, asked for a sentence without prison time.

Boone serves as her elderly mother’s sole caretaker, they said, and her own Type-1 diabetes makes her especially susceptible to COVID-19′s worst outcomes. Jail and prison inmates are at higher risk of coronavirus infection.

Thrash declined.

“I think a strong message needs to be sent, that anyone that steals from the federal COVID relief funds is gonna go to jail,” he said.

The split sentence, which also ordered Boone to repay the money she received from Lary, mirrored what prosecutors had previously recommended.

It’s also far lighter than the one Lary received.

The former mayor was sentenced in July to spend nearly five years in prison and pay about $120,000 in restitution. Authorities had already recovered the majority of the misappropriated money.

Lary is scheduled to report to prison sometime after Dec. 15, an arrangement intended to allow him to continue treatment for his ongoing battle with prostate cancer.

Boone also was not taken into custody following her sentencing hearing. She will turn herself in at an unspecified date.

“I’m very sorry,” Thrash told Boone on Friday, “that you got involved with such a dishonest, corrupt city official like Mr. Lary.”