Lithonia man charged with defrauding the USDA's COVID relief program


Date: March 18, 2021


ATLANTA — Christopher A. Hayes made an initial appearance on federal charges of making a false claim to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). Hayes was charged via an information filed on March 18, 2021.

"During the global pandemic, the government has provided a wide range of financial relief," said Acting U.S. Attorney Kurt R. Erskine. "Unfortunately, when criminals steal these funds, they take them out of the hands of those suffering hardship, such as farmers, who are the focus of the USDA relief efforts."

"It's truly disheartening, that during this pandemic, individuals are devising schemes to take advantage of funds set aside for those financially impacted," said James E. Dorsey, Special Agent in Charge IRS-Criminal Investigation. "IRS-Criminal Investigation and our law enforcement partners will remain vigilant in uncovering fraud and recommending prosecution."

"This investigation and prosecution should send a strong zero-tolerance message to those individuals who explicitly apply for aid to exploit taxpayer funded pandemic relief programs such as CFAP," said Jason Williams, Special Agent in Charge, USDA-Office of Inspector General. "We appreciate the partnership with our federal partners in pursuing this type of fraud and holding these bad actors to account in this great time of need."

According to Acting U.S. Attorney Erskine, the charges, and other information presented in court: Hayes was charged with submitting a false claim to the USDA's CFAP for the claimed loss of livestock at his commercial farming operation. CFAP provided direct relief to producers who faced price declines and additional marketing costs due to COVID-19. Hayes allegedly did not own or operate a commercial farming operation and did not have losses associated with any livestock when he made a claim under CFAP.

In addition, Hayes allegedly submitted a fraudulent IRS Form 7200, which, when used legitimately, allows an employer to request an advance payment of employer credits under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). The FFCRA provides small and midsize employers refundable tax credits that reimburse them, dollar-for-dollar, for the cost of providing paid sick and family leave wages to their employees for leave related to COVID-19. In total, Hayes attempted to obtain over $1.5 million in COVID-19 relief funding.

Christopher A. Hayes, of Lithonia, Georgia, made an initial appearance on March 18, 2021, before U.S. Magistrate Judge John K. Larkins III. Members of the public are reminded that the information only contains charges. The defendant is presumed innocent of the charges and it will be the government's burden to prove the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.

This case is being investigated by the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation and United States Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sarah Klapman and Christopher J. Huber, Deputy Chief of the Complex Frauds Section, are prosecuting the case.