Woman who claimed to run charity indicted for federal loan fraud

This house in Oxford, Ga., is listed in public records as the headquarters for Let's Talk About The Family Inc., which federal records show obtained a forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loan by claiming it had 54 employees and ran a massive service organization for economically distressed families. A federal indictment alleges company owner Olivia Ware used the money for personal gain, including to buy an in-ground swimming pool. JOHNNY EDWARDS / JREDWARDS@AJC.COM
This house in Oxford, Ga., is listed in public records as the headquarters for Let's Talk About The Family Inc., which federal records show obtained a forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loan by claiming it had 54 employees and ran a massive service organization for economically distressed families. A federal indictment alleges company owner Olivia Ware used the money for personal gain, including to buy an in-ground swimming pool. JOHNNY EDWARDS / JREDWARDS@AJC.COM

Credit: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

To hear her tell it, Olivia Ware and dozens of her employees were working on the front lines in the battle against COVID-19 last year.

She said they operated a shelter for domestic violence victims, negotiated with landlords to stop evictions and trained unemployed moms to work as contact tracers.

To save the jobs of the 54 people she claimed to employ at her nonprofit, last year she obtained a forgivable loan through the federal Paycheck Protection Program, meant to help save small businesses and nonprofits amid the pandemic.

But The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last year uncovered little evidence of the programs she described when it looked into her operations.

Now, Ware has been arraigned on federal charges of bank fraud and money laundering. The U.S. Attorney’s Office alleges that Ware stole more than $323,000 from the Paycheck Protection Program, using the money for personal gain. She has pleaded not guilty.

Her loan application included fictitious tax records purporting to show her company, Let’s Talk About the Family, had 54 employees who were paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in salaries, federal officials allege. But state records, the government says, show it didn’t pay wages to any employees.

Instead, the government alleges, Ware used the federal relief money to buy an in-ground swimming pool, furniture and other home improvement items and to pay down her mortgage.

Ware, 61, a former mayoral candidate for the city of Conyers, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Her attorney said he was too busy talk.

The AJC looked into her purported charity last year as part of an examination of the federal loan program, which provided money to many applicants with few questions asked.

The AJC found that her organization was not listed as tax-exempt with the IRS.

Ware disputed federal records that showed the loan to her company was as much as $350,000, telling an AJC reporter it was $100,000. She also said that the company had around two dozen employees, not the 54 shown on federal records.

Pressed by the AJC to provide payroll records, Ware instead provided a list with first names and phone numbers of employees. Half of the phone numbers were connected to Ware family members.

While Ware said the organization ran a domestic violence shelter that housed 12 families, when a reporter asked to tour it, it turned out to be her Newton County home, with two women and four children staying in two spare bedrooms. At the time, an uninstalled pool sat in Ware’s front yard.

Several other Georgians are facing federal criminal charges involving the federal loan program. Among the latest, in January six people were accused of fraudulently obtaining about $1.5 million in loans, and earlier this month two metro Atlanta women were accused of submitting false applications to obtain more than $3.5 million in loans.

In Other News