The DeKalb County sewer contractor most recently accused of bilking the federal paycheck protection program for millions of dollars says she’s innocent of the charges — and, in fact, is a victim of fraud herself.
Shelitha Robertson is the CEO of The Renee Group, a firm that has completed tens of millions of dollars worth of important infrastructure work for DeKalb over the years. Her recent federal charges are unrelated to her work for the county, but the firm is one of several that prosecutors say submitted false staffing numbers in order to fraudulently inflate proceeds from the PPP program.
Robertson’s indictment came more than two years after similar charges were filed against her one-time business partner and now alleged co-conspirator, Chandra Norton.
In a new statement provided by an attorney for The Renee Group, Robertson claimed Norton was to blame for everything and is now trying to save her own skin by implicating others.
“When the PPP program was announced, Ms. Norton offered to process legal and appropriate PPP loans for Ms. Robertson’s businesses and was paid for this service,” the statement said. “However, without Ms. Robertson’s knowledge, Ms. Norton included false information in these applications and even forged Ms. Robertson’s signature to PPP loan applications that Ms. Robertson was completely unaware of.”
The lengthy statement also claimed Robertson did not keep the ill-gotten stimulus funds, which investigators estimated to be in excess of $7 million. Attorney Stephen Quinn wrote that Robertson “became suspicious” of Norton’s applications and, unsatisfied with her explanation, “promptly acted to return every cent of the PPP money, with interest, to the lenders.”
And the pricey Rolls-Royce that authorities suggested Robertson purchased with the proceeds of the crime? Purchased months later using her own credit, the statement said.
Credit: SPECIAL PHOTO
Credit: SPECIAL PHOTO
Robertson was charged Dec. 6 with one count apiece of money laundering and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, as well as three counts of wire fraud. Records show she was arraigned in U.S. District Court in Atlanta last week and pleaded not guilty.
She was released without bond but ordered to home detention, meaning she’s only permitted to leave her residence for certain designated activities. Her next court hearing is scheduled for Jan. 3.
With that beginning to play out in court, her firm’s status with DeKalb County — and the millions of dollars in contracts tied to important, federally mandated sewer repairs — remained unclear.
The county has previously said it would “review all contracts and our relationship with Ms. Robertson and the Renee Group and take any appropriate action.” It has otherwise declined to comment.
A recent change order to one contract involving The Renee Group and several other companies was poised to be approved by the county commission this week. But a vote was postponed, with Commissioner Lorraine Cochran-Johnson citing the need for more conversation and “secondary review by procurement” officials.
The statement issued late Thursday by The Renee Group’s attorney, meanwhile, said the firm was “currently reviewing options for Ms. Robertson to take a leave of absence and be replaced as CEO until the charges can be resolved.”
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