Georgia man sentenced for trying to steal COVID relief funds

A Georgia man who tried to fraudulently obtain over $1.5 million in COVID-19 relief from two federal programs will spend two and a half years in prison, the Department of Justice said.

Christopher Hayes, 35, pleaded guilty in May to defrauding a U.S. Department of Agriculture program and trying to steal from another led by the IRS.

This case is the first completed prosecution in the country for fraud relating to these two sources of aid, according to a Tuesday news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia.

"The government has provided significant relief for Americans as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic," Acting U.S. Attorney Kurt R. Erskine said. "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."

The Stonecrest man submitted a claim to the agriculture department’s food assistance program saying that he lost livestock at his commercial farming operation — despite not owning a farm or losing livestock, according to Erskine.

He also sent a fraudulent form to the IRS in an attempt to receive a payment meant to reimburse employers for the cost of providing virus-related leave wages to employees.

Hayes will have to pay about $249,000 in restitution. His jail sentence will be followed by three years of supervised release.

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