David Estes, the U.S. District Attorney for Southern Georgia, recently bared that the court has handed a 29-month jail sentence to a former pastor for two counts of wire fraud. Estes added that the jail sentence comes with a three-year supervised release clause.

COVID-19 Relief Fraud

Based on the press release by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ), 45-year-old Mack Devon Knight of Stonecrest, Ga., has pleaded guilty to charges of lying to the Small Business Administration (SBA) to secure the COVID-19 relief fund.

The former South Georgia pastor, tax preparer, and mortician admitted to committing wire fraud as part of his plea deal. Knight would have to pay the SBA $149,000 as restitution aside from his jail sentence. 

Additionally, he agreed to forfeit the luxury vehicle he bought with the money from SBA in favor of the federal government.

Based on court records and witness testimonies, the ex-pastor apparently filed for Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDLs) with the SBA in February and March last year. Knight falsely claimed that he had several business ventures earning hundreds of thousands of dollars before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In his court admission, Knight said he knowingly submitted "fictious documents" that duped the SBA into granting him COVID-19 relief money. The former preacher said he gave the SBA an altered bank record and a fake tax document.

Due to Knight's duplicity, the SBA released $149,900 to him. The justice department said the ex-pastor used part of the money to purchase a Mercedes-Benz S-class vehicle. 

Also Read: Jacksonville Judge Denies 3rd Bail Request of Former Pastor Facing Capital Sexual Battery Raps

Fraudsters on the Loose

U.S. District Attorney Estes said that the COVID-19 pandemic became a cash cow for fraudsters like Knight.

"When Congress provided more than $6.5 billion through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Security (CARES) Act to help small businesses struggling financially during the pandemic, fraudsters like Mack Knight came out of the woodwork. With our law enforcement partners, we are identifying and holding accountable these scam artists attempting to steal taxpayer funds," Estes explained in the U.S. DOJ press statement.

The U.S. DOJ press release mentioned that Knight had previously been convicted of fraud crimes at least three times.

FBI Special Agent Keri Farley of the Atlanta Field Office explained that Knight's duplicity "affected every tax-paying citizen," specifically those who actually needed financial aid from the federal government. 

"So many businesses needed federal emergency assistance to stay afloat during the pandemic, and this defendant misdirected hundreds of thousands of dollars of that money to his own pockets," the release quoted Farley saying.

He added that the FBI is bent on sustaining its efforts to guarantee that federal funds are appropriately used.

The U.S. DOJ release said that Assistant U.S. Attorneys E. Greg Gilluly, Jr. and Jonathan Porter handled the government's case against Knight.

The Justice Department urges anyone with information about COVID-19 fraud to contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud hotline at 1-866-750-5721. They may also fill out this form here to report any fraudulent activity involving COVID-19 financial relief. 

Related Article: Brooklyn Police Arrest Controversial Pastor Lamor Whitehead, Parishioner Following Sunday Service's Clash