STONECREST, Ga. (CW69 News at 10) — Allegations that Stonecrest Mayor Jason Lary stole COVID-19 relief funds are now playing out in federal court. A bookkeeper is also facing charges in the case. Residents and a state lawmaker say red flags regarding the situation were there from the beginning.

Several Stonecrest residents, including Faye Coffield, have said the federal charges against Lary come as no surprise.

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“We were going to do business with him when he was in charge of one of our arts establishments. We had problems with him then,” she recalled while reflecting on a time before the city was created four years ago. Lary has been the city’s mayor since its establishment.

Federal authorities have charged Lary with wire fraud, conspiracy, and theft of COVID relief funds. He was arraigned during a hearing on November 10, 2021. The feds have also charged bookkeeper Lania Boone with conspiring with Lary to steal the funds.

Lary’s supporters have painted a different picture.

“Some of them are saying, quote, ‘it’s nothing but a political witch hunt,'” Coffield said.

This comes months after the city has already faced purchase card abuse allegations. Lary faced a backlash after withdrawing and re-depositing nearly $235,000 from the city’s housing authority checking account last May.

Now, Assistant U.S. Attorney Trevor Wilmot says Lary used COVID relief funds to pay his own taxes, a lake house mortgage, and Boone’s son’s college tuition.

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“He did plead ‘not guilty,’ but I think his attorney was quick to point out that he is trying to negotiate a plea deal,” said State Sen. Emanuel Jones (D-10th, DeKalb, Henry).

Jones has called for Lary’s resignation since April. “If he doesn’t, I will continue to work with the governor in seeing that that happens,” Jones said.

Gov. Brian Kemp previously signed off on SB 21, authored by Jones, which would shift Lary’s power to the City Council.

“I just pray that the mayor understands that these are very serious charges,” Jones said. “Potentially, he could be facing anywhere from 10 to 20 years (in prison).”

Kemp’s office did not immediately respond to CW69’s request for comment.

City officials issued a Nov. 10 statement following Lary’s arraignment:

“Obviously, this is a solemn time in Stonecrest’s history, as Mayor Lary is our first Mayor. We wish him and his family the best as they face these challenges. At the same time, the City of Stonecrest is committed to maintaining integrity in government and we fully support the U.S. Attorney’s efforts to ensure that justice is carried out.

“Because Stonecrest adopted a Council-Manager form of government earlier this year, the Mayor’s role is largely ceremonial. Therefore, we anticipate that this development will cause minimal disruption to city operations. We assure our residents that we will continue to serve them to the best of our abilities. We look forward to adopting our FY2022 budget and transitioning to a fully staffed city to further our focus on what is best for our residents.”

Coffield had a message for all residents, including those living in Stonecrest. “You have to know who you’re voting for,” she said.

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Wilmot’s office declined to comment on the case. Lary’s attorney, Dwight Thomas, says the mayor is cooperating with federal authorities and declined further comment.