Polk County Sheriff’s Office arrests ten for defrauding CARES Act Covid-19 program created to assist residents with rent, utilities, and housing costs

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Ten people were arrested by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office Thursday, January 28, 2021 following an investigation of suspicious aid applications. The investigation focused on fraudulent activity to deprive money from Polk Cares, a county program started under the Federal CARES Act which assists residents struggling to pay for rent, utilities, and other housing costs, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
To be eligible for the assistance, several criteria must be met, one of which is that applicants had to provide a letter from their employer which detailed how the employee lost their job or had their hours cut due to the pandemic. Those who qualified for assistance would then receive a one-time payment of $2,000.00.
During the application process, numerous suspected fraudulent applications were set aside and turned over to the PCSO.
The applications were scrutinized and it was determined that a number of the employer letters were forged. Companies and people whose signatures appeared on suspicious letters were contacted and the letters were confirmed to be fraudulently created and used. Among those arrested were grocery store employees, restaurant managers, a para educator, and a Licensed Practical Nurse. Some of the suspects were already receiving some form of government assistance.  Nine of the ten arrested were employed and/or did not have their hours reduced due to Covid-19.
“The Polk Cares program was designed to provide help to people in our community because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our investigation discovered people using fraudulent means to help themselves to some of that money. It is important that these kinds of government assistance programs have integrity. We will continue to investigate those who want to take advantage of programs designed to help those in need.” – Grady Judd, Sheriff
The Federal CARES Act was put into place to assist citizens who lost their jobs or had their hours significantly cut due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Polk County was allotted $126 Million dollars for the citizens of Polk County. The BOCC took a portion of the money and created a Polk Cares website portal for people to apply online for a one-time payment of $2,000 to assist with rent/mortgage and bills while out of work or had hours cut. Additionally, the program was expanded to also offer $2,000 for the senior population experiencing an increase in expenses due to COVID.
The Polk Cares website had the following criteria of eligibility:
·       Applicant must be a resident of Polk County
·       Applicant must submit a valid Florida DL or government-issued ID, and SSN
·       Applicant must submit mortgage and/or utility statement
·       Applicant must show a verifiable loss or reduction in income related to COVID-19, such as furlough, lay-off letter from employer, or underemployment statements
·       Applicant must not have received other COVID-19 assistance for rent, mortgage, or utility payments.
·       Limited to one per household
The ten suspects arrested were:
Brittany Capers, 27, of Lakeland- Charged with Obtaining Property by Fraud (F3), Grand Theft (F3), and Criminal Use of Personal ID (F3). Capers was receiving unemployment benefits at the time of her arrest.
Ebony Chaney, 34, of Lake Wales- Charged with Conspiracy to Commit Fraud (F2), Obtaining Property by Fraud (F3), Grand Theft (F3), Cheating/Gross Fraud (F3). Chaney was receiving food stamps at the time of her arrest.
Ermanne Henry, 43, of Lakeland- Charged with Obtaining Property by Fraud (F3), Grand Theft (F3), and Criminal Use of Personal ID (F3).
Mervin Suttle, 36, of Bartow- Charged with Obtaining Property by Fraud (F3), Grand Theft (F3), and Criminal Use of Personal ID (F3). Suttle was receiving food stamps and unemployment at the time of his arrest.
Patricia Taylor, 38, of Lakeland- Charged with Obtaining Property by Fraud (F3), Grand Theft (F3), and Criminal Use of Personal ID (F3). She was employed as an LPN at a nursing home.
Phyllis Tirado, 49, of Lake Wales- Charged with Conspiracy to Commit Fraud (F2), Obtaining Property by Fraud (F3), and Cheating/Gross Fraud (F3). Tirado did not receive any money, but provided a fraudulent document to an employee.
Takila McBurrows, 36, of Lake Wales- Charged with Obtaining Property by Fraud (F3), Grand Theft (F3), and Criminal Use of Personal ID (F3). McBurrows was receiving food stamps at the time of her arrest. She told deputies that she works as a para-educator.
Tashai Newman, 43, of Winter Haven- Charged with Obtaining Property by Fraud (F3), Grand Theft (F3), and Criminal Use of Personal ID (F3). Newman was receiving food stamps at the time of her arrest.
Derrick Dawsey, 50, of Lake Wales- Charged with Obtaining Property by Fraud (F3), Grand Theft (F3), and Criminal Use of Personal ID (F3).
Dominique Frasier, 36, of Lakeland- Charged with Obtaining Property by Fraud (F3), Grand Theft (F3), and Criminal Use of Personal ID (F3). Frasier was receiving food stamps at the time of her arrest. She was employed as a CNA at a nursing home.