Atlanta/ Crime & Emergencies
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Published on June 11, 2024
Georgia Siblings Sentenced to 21 Months for Defrauding Unemployment and COVID-19 Relief ProgramsSource: Unsplash/ Ye Jinghan

Two siblings from Georgia have been sentenced to over a year in prison for their roles in scheming to defraud unemployment and COVID-19 relief programs, the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Southern District of Georgia announced. La’Kyera Me’Lika Thurmond, 35, and Brandon Jamal Thurmond, 34, who hail from Snellville and Lilburn respectively, conspired to exploit financial aid initiatives meant to assist those struggling amid the pandemic. In a press release dated June 10th, U.S. Attorney Jill E. Steinberg stated that each sibling is to serve 21 months in prison and three years of supervised release.

The siblings' fraudulent activities included filing for unemployment benefits in multiple states in the name of Brandon Thurmond, who was incarcerated on state charges at the time, and thus ineligible for such benefits, and for other individuals across pandemic relief initiatives. "The Thurmonds' greed-fueled scheme targeted both programs, and they’re now being held accountable for their crimes," Steinberg said. The court also mandated that they pay back $140,228 in restitutionm, according to U.S. Attorney's Office.

As highlighted in court records, the fraudulent activities extended to applying for Paycheck Protection Program funding under the CARES Act administrated by the Small Business Administration, using falsified documents. In a statement, FBI Atlanta Senior Supervisory Special Agent Matthew Ploskunak expressed concern over the harmful impact of such greed on taxpaying citizens, and those in genuine need of help during the crisis. "The FBI will make every effort to make sure federal funds are used as intended," Ploskunak commented, as reported by U.S. Attorney's Office.

U.S. District Court Judge J. Randal Hall, dealt the sentence, which represented payments fraudulently claimed from the state of Georgia, Arizona, the SBA and a financial services company. Special Agent in Charge Or the SBA OIG's Eastern Region, Amaleka McCall-Braithwaite, reiterated their commitment to pursuing and bringing justice to those who abuse such relief programs. "This sentencing further showcases that OIG will relentlessly pursue fraudsters," McCall-Braithwaite said, as per U.S. Attorney's Office.

The collaborative investigation effort involved the FBI, IRS Criminal Investigation, the SBA Office of Inspector General, and the U.S. Department of Labor and was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer A. Stanley. According to U.S. Attorney's Office, the Department of Justice remains vigilant and encourages anyone with information about possible fraud involving COVID-19 aid to report it. Reports can be made to the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline or through the NCDF Web Complaint Form available online.