Mother, daughter sentenced in scheme to steal COVID-19 Housing Assistance Funds

Published 4:39 pm Friday, June 7, 2024

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RALEIGH – Two members of a New Bern family were sentenced this week for their role in a scheme to defraud a program designed to help struggling North Carolina residents stay in their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Takeeia Hawkins, age 43, and her daughter, Shanasia Hawkins, age 22, both pled guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud earlier this year. Takeeia Hawkins was sentenced to 36 months in prison for her role in the scheme, while Shanasia Hawkins was sentenced to 15 months in prison.

Both women claimed to be landlords of properties in Eastern North Carolina, with tenants who were unable to pay rent due to the Covid-19 pandemic. They submitted fraudulent applications to the NC HOPE Program (North Carolina Housing Opportunities and Prevention of Evictions Program), which was established during Covid to provide emergency rental assistance to tenants who struggled to pay rent and therefore faced eviction due to financial difficulties caused by the pandemic. The two women received nearly $150,000 in federal funds, which was largely spent on gifts and gambling.

“This case represents yet another example of the greedy taking from the needy,” said U.S. Attorney Michael Easley. “COVID-19 monies were set aside to help struggling families pay their rent, and these defendants stole it. This office will continue its vigorous pursuit of those who used the pandemic to turn a fraudulent profit.”

Several other family members and acquaintances of the Hawkins are also implicated in the scheme to defraud the NC HOPE Program. Takeeia Hawkins’ son, Jmari Hawkins, age 24, and two other conspirators, Jonell Ojeda, age 23, and Tevin Evans, age 26, have also pled guilty in the scheme to fraudulently obtain more than $850,000 in emergency rental assistance from the NC HOPE Program. All three are set to be sentenced later this summer.

“The fraud committed by the defendants diverted critical taxpayer money that was intended to help families during an unprecedented pandemic,” said Acting Special Agent-in-Charge George Richardson with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Inspector General. “HUD OIG remains steadfast in its commitment to working with our prosecutorial and law enforcement partners to aggressively pursue those who engage in activities that threaten the integrity of HUD programs.”

“As many families continue to struggle with the aftermath of COVID-19, today’s sentencing offers a renewed hope in our criminal justice system. There are consequences for those who seek to exploit and harm others during vulnerable times. This is a testament to justice prevailing and individuals being held accountable. We are grateful for our partners and the investigators, agents, and prosecutors who saw this case through,” said SBI Director Robert Schurmeier.

The NC HOPE Program administered federal COVID-19 relief funds and provided emergency rental assistance to North Carolina renters who faced eviction and homelessness during the pandemic. The program allowed renters to submit an online application to apply for rental assistance. If approved, the program paid the tenant’s rent, in checks sent directly to the landlord, for up to 15 months of overdue or future rent payments.

Takeeia, Shanasia, and Jmari Hawkins, along with Jonell Ojeda and Tevin Evans all admitted to falsely claiming to be landlords of multiple properties in North Carolina. In total, the group attempted to defraud the NC HOPE Program out of more than $870,000 and were ultimately successful in obtaining more than $250,000 in stolen COVID-19 relief funds.