GAINESVILLE — Federal prosecutors say a woman has been sentenced to more than a year in prison for fraudulently obtaining federal grants that were meant to help fight substance abuse.
Authorities say 62-year-old Jessica Regas of Cumming obtained more than $600,000 in federal grants meant to fight juvenile substance abuse, but instead used the money to pay personal expenses.
Prosecutors say Regas submitted false statements in her grant applications and continued applying for federal assistance after the business she was applying on behalf of ceased to exist.
She was ordered to serve a year and nine months in prison, three years of supervised release and is also ordered to pay $600,000 in restitution.
In a statement, U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates was critical of Regas’ actions.
“Rather than steering young people away from drug abuse, she lined her own pocket,” Yates said. “Not only did the federal government lose grant funds, but those intended to benefit were cheated as well.”
Derrick L. Jackson, special agent in charge of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General in Atlanta, described Regas as “greedy.”
“She manipulated the grant process to steal federal funds needed for substance abuse prevention,” Jackson said.
Veronica F. Hyman-Pillot, special agent in charge with the Internal Revenue Service’s criminal investigation, said the sentence is “a message to others that there are consequences for submitting fraudulent information to an agency of the [federal government].”
Forsyth County Sheriff Duane Piper praised his agency’s work.
“We will remain vigilant identifying, investigating and prosecuting crimes of this nature,” Piper said.
In May, Regas entered a plea agreement in the U.S. District Court in Gainesville.
According to the agreement, Regas first applied for grant funding in 2004 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA, for the creation of the Drug Free Forsyth Coalition.
Det. Edmond Van Bever with the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office said the office was first alerted that Regas may have misused the grant funds in fall 2013, when Forsyth Commissioner Cindy Mills began looking into the possibility of beginning a Drug Free Coalition for the county.
In her research, Mills discovered that Forsyth County was not eligible for the grant because it had already been awarded to the Georgia Martial Arts Foundation, under the direction of Regas and her husband.
Through the Georgia Martial Arts Foundation, Regas and her husband were to oversee the Drug Free Forsyth Coalition, meeting specific regulations required by the SAMHSA grant.
Regas, according to the plea document, was the recipient of the grant funding from 2004 through 2013, receiving around $100,000 per year from 2004 to 2008 and around $125,000 a year from 2009 to 2013.
In 2011 the Georgia Martial Arts Foundation ceased to exist, but Regas continued to receive the grant funding of $125,000 a year.
She and her family “used the bulk of the proceeds of this offense for their own personal benefit,” states the plea agreement.
Regas’ attorney, Dennis Scheib, who also is a family friend of more than 20 years, said in May that Regas takes full responsibility for her actions in the matter.
“She’s not making any excuses for what happened,” Scheib said. “She started out, her and her husband, started out doing something very viable in the community as far as the drug coalition.”
Scheib indicated Regas’ misuse of the funds may have begun as the result of a longtime illness of her husband that began in 2011.