Schroder reports relief program fraud indictments, calls for more aggressive anti-fraud action
Published 12:53 pm Monday, June 5, 2023
BATON ROUGE, LA – State Treasurer John M. Schroder reports indictments of five individuals charged with Main Street Recovery Program (MSRP) government benefits fraud and computer fraud and theft, all felonies. These charges represent an effort to further minimize the program’s already exceedingly low fraud rate of 1.32 percent, as determined by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office, which fell significantly below the national average for similar programs, which run at an average of 15.2 percent.
“This was supposed to be a program to help small businesses, not line people’s pockets. I have zero tolerance for fraud. It is shameful that government lets people get away with it,” Schroder said. “This is just one program. As a former law enforcement officer I believe all agencies should take every opportunity to investigate, prosecute and convict those who break the law.”
Despite the MSRP fraud rate falling well below what he was told was the federal government’s “acceptable fraud rate allowance,” Schroder said the Department of Treasury will continue to work with law enforcement agencies to aggressively seek out and prosecute those who have committed fraud in order to obtain justice and restitution.
Schroder personally made phone calls to recoup money from those who were found to have provided false information in order to receive funds. “I would call around dinner time and people at first didn’t believe it was really me – the State Treasurer – calling them,” he said. “I informed them that Treasury had been made aware of their ‘incorrect application submission’ and that they needed to return their money.” As of June 1, $466K in cash has been retrieved and $580K resolved for a total of over $1M recovered. Treasury worked with Inspector General Stephen Street’s Office to identify both those who committed fraud and those who attempted to do so but were caught before receiving funds.
An East Baton Rouge Parish Grand Jury in the 19th Judicial District returned indictments charging five defendants with crimes related to the MSRP: Terez Bradley, 38, of St. Tammany Parish; Althea Scott, 45, of Jefferson Parish; Viola Combs, 59, of East Baton Rouge Parish; Geona Garrett, 37, of Tangipahoa Parish and Geliss Garrett, 34, of St. Tammany Parish. Arrest warrants have been issued for all defendants and hearings have been set.
MSRP dispensed $262M to businesses suffering from pandemic-related operating losses across Louisiana in an average timeframe from application submission to award disbursement of 46.38 days.
Over $160M, more than four times the amount required by law, was administered to minority and military small business owners. There were 20,751 grants awarded with an average of $12,675 per business awarded. The program exceeded expectations laid out in statute with 70 percent of businesses receiving grants allotted the maximum $15,000 award amount.
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