Sunday, June 16, 2024

Prison time for New Bern mother and daughter in COVID fraud case

A mother and daughter from New Bern will go to prison for defrauding the government out of almost $150,000 in COVID-19 relief funds.

The government says Takeeia Hawkins, 43, and her daughter, Shanasia Hawkins, 22, spent the money mostly on gifts and gambling.

Both women pleaded guilty earlier this year to conspiracy to commit mail fraud. The elder Hawkins was sentenced Friday to 36 months in prison for her role in the scheme. Her daughter was sentenced to 15 months.

Both women claimed to be landlords of properties in eastern North Carolina, with tenants who were unable to pay rent due to the pandemic. They submitted fraudulent applications to the NC HOPE Program (North Carolina Housing Opportunities and Prevention of Evictions Program), which was established during the pandemic to provide emergency rental assistance to tenants who struggled to pay rent and therefore faced eviction due to financial difficulties caused by the pandemic.  

“This case represents yet another example of the greedy taking from the needy,” said U.S. Attorney Michael Easley in a release. “COVID-19 monies were set aside to help struggling families pay their rent, and these defendants stole it.”

Several other family members and acquaintances of the Hawkins are also implicated in the scheme to defraud the NC HOPE Program. 

Takeeia Hawkins’ son, Jmari Hawkins, 24, and two other conspirators, Jonell Ojeda, 23, and Tevin Evans, 26, have also pleaded guilty in the scheme to fraudulently obtain more than $850,000 in emergency rental assistance from the NC HOPE Program. All three are set to be sentenced later this summer.

The NC HOPE Program administered federal COVID-19 relief funds and provided emergency rental assistance to North Carolina renters who faced eviction and homelessness during the pandemic.

The Program allowed renters to submit an online application to apply for rental assistance. If approved, the Program paid the tenant’s rent, in checks sent directly to the landlord, for up to 15 months of overdue or future rent payments. 

Takeeia, Shanasia, and Jmari Hawkins, along with Jonell Ojeda and Tevin Evans, all admitted to falsely claiming to be landlords of multiple properties in North Carolina. In total, the group attempted to defraud the NC HOPE Program out of more than $870,000 and were ultimately successful in obtaining more than $250,000 in stolen COVID-19 relief funds.

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