COVINGTON — The woman accused of using fake landlords to fraudulently obtain more than $400,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funding has been indicted on racketeering and other changes.
Christal De’shai Guthrie, 44, is accused in connection with defrauding the county of $480,488 in ARPA funds that were intended to help area residents with rent, mortgage and utility payments. The distribution of funds was handled under a contract between the county and the Salvation Army. Guthrie was hired by the Salvation Army as a caseworker to help distribute the funding. The Salvation Army has since reimbursed the funding to the county.
According to the 72-count indicted handed down in the January term of Newton County grand jury, Guthrie carried out the scheme through a pattern of racketeering activities by altering rental assistance applications to include fake landlords who did not own the properties listed and did not rent to the tenants listed. According to the indictment, checks would be delivered to the fake landlords, in many cases with instructions that Guthrie was to receive a portion of the check.
Newton County District Attorney Randy McGinley said Guthrie has filed a demand for a speedy trial, meaning that her case must be tried by the end of the April term of court. The term covers April, May and June.
Guthrie faces two counts of racketeering under the state’s RICO Act, 67 counts of making false statements related to falsely obtaining rental assistance, two counts of making false statements related to obtaining funds for her personal car loan payments, two counts of forgery related to loan documents, and theft by taking of $25,000 or more. She will be arraigned on the charges on March 16 in Newton County Superior Court.
The indictment lists 26 individuals who allegedly fraudulently received rental assistance checks. Guthrie allegedly conspired with the following people to submit fraudulent applications and to keep or share the money received from cashing the checks:
Canute Ashmead, Dion Flanagan, Ronnie Brogden, Shameka Brooks, Dawn Dewalt, Kiairus Dixon, Kevon Donald, Latoya Gordon, Stacey Harmon, Alfonso Heard, Myra Horton, Tyesha Humphrey, Dominique Lewis, Isaiah Johnson, Anesha McMullen, Clinton McNair, Jermaine Newsome, Crystal Newsome, Demarco Perdue, Darry Poole, Landyn Robinson, Paula Slaughter, Tanya Stubbs, Moses Williams, Demarco Horne, and Carmen Manigo.
Some of the individuals allegedly received one check and others received multiple checks. One man allegedly received seven, according to Guthrie’s indictment.
Of the 26 listed, McGinley said the following have been arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit theft by deception and identity fraud: Dominique Lewis, Moses Williams, Jermaine Newsome, Dawn Dewalt and Canute Ashmead.
McGinley said the suspects have not yet been indicted by a grand jury, and the investigation is “still very active and ongoing.”
In addition to the alleged fraud related to rental assistance, Guthrie allegedly falsified documents using two different names to obtain mortgage payments to Exeter Finance LLC. Guthrie allegedly falsified the documents so that the payments would go toward her car loan with Exeter Finance.
Guthrie was initially arrested in October in connection with the investigation.
Newton County had allocated a total of $700,000 of its ARPA funding for mortgage, rent and utility assistance, to be distributed to qualified applicants by the Salvation Army for a 15% fee. Guthrie was hired by the Salvation Army in April as a caseworker to review applications for aid and verify the information provided by the applicants.
The Salvation Army alerted the county in September that it had detected “evidence of forged or manipulated documents” during an internal audit of the ARPA distributions. About $529,000 of the $700,000 allocated to the Salvation Army had been distributed before the suspected fraud was detected and the county instructed the non-profit to halt distributions. Under its agreement with the Salvation Army, the county has recouped the misappropriated funds.
On Oct. 3 the Covington Police Department arrested Guthrie and charged her with one count of felony theft by taking and 11 counts of felony making false statements or writings.
I have been editor of the Rockdale Citizen since 1996 and editor of the Newton Citizen since it began publication in 2004. I am also currently executive editor of the Clayton News Daily, Henry Daily Herald and Jackson Progress-Argus.
On Sunday, it was time for our clocks to "spring forward," lessening the night's sleep by one hour. While it may not seem too significant, Daylight Saving Time can definitely throw everyone for a loop. How do you handle it?
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