WRITER’S NOTE: The following is a monthly compilation of alleged or documented stories about waste, fraud, or abuse of taxpayer money or taxpayer-funded resources throughout Georgia. Material was gathered using government documents, the Georgia Public Policy Foundation’s original reporting, and/or previously published news articles.
He Didn’t Learn His Lesson The First Time: A former supervisor in the DeKalb County Tax Commissioner’s Office was charged this month with wire fraud for allegedly falsely claiming he could register a stolen vehicle by bribing an employee in the tax office.
That man, Gerald Harris, had already pleaded guilty in 2020 to bribery and blackmail and was sentenced to two years in prison. That sentence came after he accepted more than $35,000 in cash to unlawfully register vehicles and extorted one of the individuals who paid him bribe money.
According to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia, “Based on the COVID-19 pandemic [at the time], the sentencing judge compassionately gave Harris almost six months to report to prison.”
“Rather than use that time to arrange his affairs – in a brazen display of audacity, Harris allegedly executed a separate wire fraud scheme.”
Harris served as the supervisor of Tax Tag Clerks for the Tax Commissioner’s Office between 2017 through 2019.
Bad Teacher: Former teacher and Pickens County School Superintendent Carlton Wilson recently served as a victim advocacy director for his local district attorney’s office.
While in the victim advocacy department, Wilson sustained a serious physical injury.
“He exhausted the balance of his paid sick leave and certified that he was still unable to work. As a result, Pickens County permitted him to draw from a bank of county employee-donated hours,” according to a statement this month from Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr.
“Yet, during this same time period, Carlton Wilson was actively working at a private business that had the same physical requirement. In total, he unlawfully collected more than $6,000 in donated leave from the Pickens County Government.”
Carr said Wilson, through his private business, engaged in other schemes intended to illegally obtain funds for personal use.
Wilson pleaded guilty this month to one count of racketeering and theft by taking as well as six additional counts of theft by taking by a fiduciary, theft by deception, and theft by conversion.
A Work of Fiction: Charges were recently unsealed against eight Peach State residents for allegedly conspiring to defraud the Georgia Department of Labor (GaDOL) of tens of millions of dollars in federal funds intended for unemployment benefits.
According to a statement from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), those eight individuals allegedly caused the GaDOL to file more than 5,000 fraudulent unemployment insurance (UI) claims. This resulted in at least $30 million in stolen benefits meant to assist unemployed individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“To execute the scheme, the defendants and others allegedly created fictitious employers and fabricated lists of purported employees using stolen personally identifiable information (PII) from thousands of identity theft victims and filed fraudulent unemployment insurance claims on the GaDOL website,” DOJ officials said,
“The defendants allegedly stole PII from a variety of sources, including by paying defendant Edith Nate Hicks, an employee of an Atlanta-area health care and hospital network, to unlawfully obtain patients’ PII from the hospital’s databases. The defendants also allegedly caused the stolen UI funds to be disbursed via prepaid debit cards mailed to addresses of their choice, many of which were in and around Cordele and Vienna.”
Breathtakingly Corrupt: A former Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency (GVRA) counselor was sentenced this month to five years in prison for forging educational records and creating fake students with non-existent disabilities and illnesses.
According to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia, that former counselor, Karen C. Lyke, committed these frauds as part of an elaborate, multi-year scheme to steal more than $1.3 million.
State Inspector General Scott McAfee described this as “the largest criminal fraud that the Office of the State Inspector General (OIG) has ever investigated.”
The State Vocational Rehabilitation Services Program is a federally funded program administered by the U.S. Department of Education that offers grant money to assist states in providing services to individuals with disabilities.
“From approximately May 2016 to November 2020, Lyke and her husband, Kevin M. Gregory (who has been separately charged) conspired to steal money from the GVRA by claiming educational expenses for approximately 13 fake students. Lyke and Gregory used the names of actual friends and relatives as the names of the fake disabled students seeking tuition assistance from the GVRA,” federal officials said.
“Lyke and Gregory used the names of friends and relatives to create fake medical records to make it appear that the approximately 13 fake students qualified for tuition assistance from the GVRA. They claimed that these fake students suffered from disabilities or illnesses like AIDS, cancer, psychosocial impairments, or muscular dystrophy.”
As proof of identification, Lyke and Gregory provided the GVRA with manufactured images of fake driver’s licenses that listed the names of their friends and relatives. In one instance, Gregory created a fake driver’s license in his cousin’s name, by using a mug shot image of an unknown individual from the Internet as the driver’s license photograph. Lyke and Gregory then used photo-editing software to alter authentic college transcripts, financial aid reports, and proofs of registration from actual GVRA clients to support claims that the fake students attended schools like the Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia State University or the University of Georgia. Lyke then uploaded the sham driver’s licenses, transcripts, financial aid reports and other documentation into the GVRA’s electronic database.
“Based on false documentation, Lyke and Gregory caused more than 230 checks to be mailed to approximately 13 friends and relatives for bogus educational expenses. In fact, none of the 13 fake students attended any of the claimed colleges or universities,” according to federal officials.
“The GVRA mailed the checks to post office boxes that Lyke and Gregory opened in their own names. After receiving the GVRA checks, Lyke and Gregory either: (a) deposited the GVRA checks into their own bank accounts, or (b) gave the GVRA checks to their friends and relatives to be deposited. The friends and relatives funneled most of the GVRA funds back to Lyke and Gregory after depositing the GVRA checks.”
After Lyke left the GVRA in March 2019, Lyke and Gregory continued to submit forged paperwork to the GVRA for non-existent educational expenses. Based on the false submissions, the GVRA continued to issue checks to the fake students for bogus educational expenses. Lyke and Gregory used the stolen GVRA funds to pay for various personal expenses, including cars, jewelry, high-end guitars, and the down payment on a new home.
Gregory and Lyke also conspired to steal several high-value computers from the GVRA. Using her position as a GVRA counselor, Lyke and Gregory stole multiple computers by submitting phony paperwork to the GVRA.
Gregory, 40, pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit federal program theft. Gregory is scheduled for sentencing next month.