Feds: DeKalb man tried to steal $1.5M worth of COVID-19 relief funds

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Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

A DeKalb County man is accused of trying to misuse a federal COVID-19 relief program for farmers to steal more than $1.5 million.

Christopher A. Hayes, 35, of Lithonia, is charged with making a false claim to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, according to a Thursday news release by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia. Prosecutors said Hayes claimed to own a farm — which he doesn’t — and that it was suffering due to the pandemic.

The USDA’s COVID-19 relief program aims to help farmers and livestock producers who faces price declines and other negative effects from the pandemic. Hayes submitted fraudulent documents claiming “loss of livestock,” according to the release.

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In addition, Hayes is accused of sending fraudulent documents to the Internal Revenue Service in an effort to receive funds from the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. That program provides small business employers refundable tax credits to help with paid employee sick leave related to COVID-19.

“Unfortunately, when criminals steal these funds, they take them out of the hands of those suffering hardship, such as farmers, who are the focus of the USDA relief efforts,” Kurt R. Eskine, Acting U.S. Attorney, said in the release.

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Hayes made his first appearance in federal court Thursday. Further information on his custody was not provided. His case is being investigated by the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation and the Office of Inspector General within the United States Department of Agriculture.

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