A Mount Vernon city employee and her daughter have admitted their roles in bilking a COVID-19 relief program out of $1.8 million by submitting false grant applications for businesses that either didn’t qualify or didn’t exist.
Andrea and Alicia Ayers pleaded guilty in federal court last week to all four charges that were brought against them two years ago and will be sentenced in June. They each face a minimum of two years in prison and a maximum of 20 years but prosecutors estimate that the sentencing guidelines call for a prison term of between 8 1/2 and 10 years. They would also each owe an estimated $1.8 million in restitution.
Andrea Ayers, who also ran a catering service, held a civilian job in the Mount Vernon Police Department and was the local representative of the CSEA union representing Mount Vernon city employees. Her daughter, who lives in Stamford, ran travel and financial services agencies.
Brothers charged:Mount Vernon brothers accused in $7.6 million pandemic relief fraud
Mother, daughter charged:Mount Vernon city employee, daughter charged in $1.6 million COVID-19 relief scheme
Royce Russell, Andrea Ayers' lawyer, declined to comment. A lawyer for Alicia Ayers could not be reached.
The scheme was similar to others that played out across the country as the federal Small Business Administration made billions of dollars available for those that suffered during the pandemic. Andrea and Alicia Ayers specifically utilized the application process for the agency’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, which offered a grant of up to $10,000 for small businesses. The grant did not have to be repaid and would pay out $1,000 per employee up to 10 workers.
The Ayerses and a friend in Georgia, Traci Proctor, solicited pedigree information from more than 300 people, some who had businesses with far fewer than 10 employees and others for whom they cited businesses that did not exist.
Once the money was sent to the recipients, mother and daughter got kickbacks ranging from $2,000 and $5,000 for each grant, prosecutors alleged. When they were indicted in August 2021 on charges of wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, false statements and aggravated identity theft. Proctor was not included in the indictment, a sign she may have pleaded guilty and was cooperating with prosecutors. Her lawyer did not return phone and email messages.
Later in 2021, another scheme centered in Mount Vernon was exposed when Quadri and Anwar Salahuddin, sons of a Mount Vernon deputy fire chief, were charged. The Salahuddin brothers, Mount Vernon native Jacob Carter and Christal Ransom are awaiting trial, accused of costing the EIDL program more than $7.6 million related to 1,000 applications.
This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: Mount Vernon employee and daughter plead guilty in COVID-19 scheme