Sheriff Judd says his department is still investigating 39 other people who also tried to steal CARES Act money.

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (CW44 News At 10) – Ten people are now in the Polk County Jail, after Sheriff Grady Judd says they stole money from the Polk County CARES Act Fund, which is used to help residents struggling to pay rent, utilities and other housing costs because of the pandemic.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd says nine of the ten people arrested on Thursday stole up to $18,000 in CARES Act money, and now they’re facing charges that include grand theft and obtaining property by fraud. Sheriff Judd stated firmly at a press conference, “Here’s what makes me angry about this. There are people, because there was a finite amount of money, there are people who needed the money the worst, that didn’t get the money because these people stole and created fraudulent acts.”

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Credit: PCSO | CW44 News At 10

Sheriff Judd says an investigation into stolen money from the CARES Act began back in July of 2020. He says $53 million of the funds were set aside for residents in Polk County to apply for, but not everyone qualified for it. Sheriff Judd added, “We found a lot of people that had falsified documents.” 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.

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Judd outlined in the Friday press conference that a manager of a McDonald’s in Polk County, Phyllis Tirado, started a chain of illegal activity. “Phyllis who is the General Manager, she liked [suspect] Ebony Chaney, felt sorry for her so she dummied up a letter so she could qualify for Polk CARES. Then that letter was duplicated through those that work at McDonald’s that were to receive the money illegally.”

Judd also described another group his officers also arrested who worked at a local Publix. “Took records and took a document, an HR document, off of a bulletin board and used Publix’s logo, Publix’s supervisor’s name.”

A total of nine people had each illegally received $2,000 in CARES Act money and Tirado, the manager who helped her McDonald’s employees get the money, is now charged with conspiracy to commit fraud and cheating. Judd added, “You’re stealing from the taxpayers. You’re stealing from the good-hearted people who made that money available for those who are really, really struggling.”

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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 CapersBrittany 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 ChaneyEbony 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 HenryErmanne Henry, 43, of Lakeland– Charged with Obtaining Property by Fraud (F3), Grand Theft (F3), and Criminal Use of Personal ID (F3).

 

 

Mervin Suttle Jr.

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 TaylorPatricia 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.

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Phyllis TiradoPhyllis 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 McBurrowsTakila 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 NewmanTashai 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 DawseyDerrick Dawsey, 50, of Lake Wales– Charged with Obtaining Property by Fraud (F3), Grand Theft (F3), and Criminal Use of Personal ID (F3).

 

 

Dominique FrasierDominique 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.

 

 

Sheriff Judd says his department is still investigating 39 other people who also tried to steal CARES Act money. He adds the Polk County Sheriff’s Office is partnering with the Board of County Commissioners, the state and federal governments to make sure CARES Act money gets to the people who qualify.

CW44 News At 10 will provide further information as it is made available.

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