Former Rhea County executive sentenced to 33 months for COVID-19-related fraud | USAO-EDTN
CHATTANOOGA, Tennessee – On October 6, 2022, George Thacker, 59, of Spring City, Tennessee, was sentenced to 33 months in prison by the Honorable Charles E. Atchley, Jr. in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee near Chattanooga.
As part of a plea agreement filed with the court, Thacker agreed to plead guilty to a one-count bill of information charging him in violation of 18 USC § 1343 of wire fraud related to COVID-19 relief funds. Thacker was ordered to pay $665,600 in restitution and a $15,000 fine, and will be paroled for three years after his release from prison.
In 2020, the United States government enacted the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”) to ward off negative economic impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic. Two related programs — the Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (“EIDL”) program — provided forgivable or soft loans to companies affected by the pandemic.
According to court documents, between May 2020 and February 2021, Thacker filed three separate fraudulent requests for a total of over $650,000 in PPP and EIDL aid funds. At the time, he was the elected county executive for Rhea County, Tennessee, and the owner of Thacker Corporation, a corporation headquartered in Tennessee’s Eastern District. As part of the loan application process, he certified that he would use the money for specific business purposes, such as paying rent to Thacker Corporation and continuing to pay his employees’ salaries. But instead of using the aid money for its intended purpose, Thacker used it to enrich himself. Among other things, he used the money to buy Bitcoin, Ether and other cryptocurrencies and to fund his personal investment accounts.
“COVID-19 subsidy fraud is a felony,” said US Attorney Francis M. Hamilton III. “Mr. Thacker’s fraud scheme took advantage of a relief program designed to alleviate the economic suffering of all American workers and businesses. Today he will be held accountable for his actions, and the court’s verdict should follow in his footsteps for anyone who is tempted demonstrate that this crime has serious consequences. I commend the hard work of the United States Secret Service and everyone involved in this prosecution. The United States Attorney’s Office is committed to identifying and prosecuting those those who have unlawfully exploited the COVID-19 pandemic for personal gain, and we will continue to work with our federal law enforcement partners to ensure those who abuse federal assistance programs are brought to justice.”
“One of the Secret Service’s primary missions is to protect the US financial infrastructure, including pandemic-related fraud. At the start of the pandemic, PPE-related fraud was of paramount concern to all law enforcement agencies. In addition, the release of federal funds from the CARES Act and subsequent funding increased this priority. The Secret Service is committed to fighting financial crime, particularly in cases where fraudsters are taking advantage of American citizens during these trying times. The Secret Service, through its partnership with local federal and state law enforcement and private sector financial institutions will continue to make this a priority for the Department,” said Resident Agent Juan Alicea of the United States Secret Service (“USSS”) in Chattanooga.
The charges emerged from an investigation by the USSS.
Assistant United States Attorney Kyle Wilson prosecuted this case on behalf of the United States.