A nationwide grant-writing scam based in Orlando stole more than $300,000 from thousands of victims seeking federal funds for personal and business expenses, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement announced this afternoon.
Members of IM Credit Solutions & Grant Writer charged up to $500 to prepare grant proposals, without writing a single grant application, according to FDLE.
Carlton Smith, 52, of Orlando, was arrested this afternoon on charges of fraud and money laundering, according to FDLE.
Arrest warrants were issued for Irma Michelle Jackson-Stewart, 38, and James Stewart, 51, both of whom are believed to be in Central Florida, said FDLE spokesman Jack Massey in Orlando.
Jackson-Stewart, described as the leader of the scam, previously served time in prison for defrauding victims, cases in which "she basically preyed on minority churches and people of faith," Massey said.
Her husband, James Stewart, is a formerOrange County corrections officer who resigned last year while facing possible termination for fraternization, said county Corrections spokesman Allen Moore. Corrections officers are not allowed to fraternize with convicted felons.
A video released by FDLE of Jackson-Stewart pitching her services shows her telling a church congregation how everyone who applies for a federal stimulus grant that does not have to be re-paid would receive a check for as much as $55,000 within six to nine months.
"If I'm a scam then God is a liar," she said. "I'm not here to scam anybody â€“ just help."
According to FDLE, Jackson-Stewart claimed she was the only person in Florida authorized by the government to write the grant proposals.
Lawyers for the state Attorney General's Office of Statewide Prosecution wrote in the arrest warrant affidavit "that there is no credible proof that the defendantsâ€¦every actually drafted or submitted any such applications to the grants.gov website."
WWW.Grants.gov is a valid website maintained by the federal Department of Health and Human Service for federal grant applications.
From April 2010 to May, "the trio promoted their services through churches, businesses, residential visits and paid advertising. No federal grants were ever available, and none of the victims ever received money," according to FDLE.
The suspects charged $300 for personal grant requests and $500 for business requests. They kept their victims complacent by sending letters to them within two weeks of payment which announced the government had approved the grants and would send them money with six to nine months, Massey said.
Jackson-Stewart spoke only in Florida but word of the promised free month spread across the country by word of mouth from friend to friend, Massey said. Law enforcement did not learn of the scam until late last year and underestimated its scope at first, he said.
The first four or five people claiming to have been swindled were referred to their local law enforcement agencies. But when FDLE received more complaints agents seized corporate records and found there were 2,116 victims in 37 counties and 30 states who have combined total losses of about $331,000, Massey said.
Anyone with information about the location of Jackson-Stewart and Stewart is asked to call FDLE Special Agent Luis Negrete at 407-245-0801. The case is being prosecuted by the Attorney General's Office of Statewide Prosecution.
Artice Source: http://www.articlesphere.com
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