Polk County Sheriff
The Polk County Sheriff's Office announced the arrest of an 11th suspect who received $2,000 in federal CARES Act Funds intended for residents who were financially impacted by Covid-19.
Saget Genoret, 33, a Publix employee in Lakeland, was arrested after he used a falsified letter on a Publix letterhead to apply for the $2,000 benefits. Genoret claimed Publix cut his hours due to the pandemic.
During a Friday afternoon press conference, Sheriff Grady Judd announced the arrests of 10 suspects who fraudulently obtained Covid relief funds.
Judd said the fraud started with 49-year-old Phyllis Tirado -- a manager of McDonald's located at 416 West Central Avenue in Lake Wales.
TIrado didn't apply for funds herself, but she allegedly falsified a letter for a McDonald's worker whom she "felt sorry" for.
The employee, 34-year-old Ebony Chaney, received $2,000 in Covid relief funds from the federal CARES Act distributed through the Polk County CARES ACT program.
Authorities say Chaney didn't qualify for the funds she received.
"[Tirado] felt sorry for her employees," Judd explained. "Thought they could use some extra money so she dummied up a letter for one."
The form was then altered to remove Chaney's information and copies were handed out to employees at Publix, a literacy program, and the Scott Lake Health & Rehabilitation.
"In some instances," Judd said, "they took signed forms, scanned them in... and then wrote the information in. interestingly enough, in one of them, they spelled Phyllis' name wrong."
Judd added: "Yesterday, when we started arresting people, if you were in line at McDonald's, and you got your hamburger and it was cold, it's because we were arresting people."
The investigation, which began in June, is still ongoing. Judd said more arrests are expected. He issued a word of warning to anyone who stole money from the CARES Act: "If I were you, I would beat feet down to the county and give that money back before we figure it out."
He said the judge is more likely to be lenient with those who returned the funds before sheriff's deputies show up at their door with arrest warrants.
The suspects were charged with Obtaining Property by Fraud, Grand Theft, and Criminal Use of Personal ID.
One man, Mervin Suttle, 36, of Bartow, was also charged with fraudulently receiving food stamps and unemployment.
Another suspect, Patricia Taylor, 38, of Lakeland, worked as an LPN at a nursing home.
All of the suspects lost their jobs following their arrests.