New Bern mother and daughter plead guilty to attempting to steal more than $850,000 in COVID-19 relief funds

RALEIGH, N.C. (WITN) – Two members of a New Bern family are facing federal prison time after pleading guilty to defrauding a program designed to help struggling North Carolina residents stay in their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic of more than $850,000.

According to United States Attorney Michael Easley’s office, 43-year-old Takeeia Hawkins and her daughter, 22-year-old Shanasia Hawkins both pled guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and face up to 30 years when they are sentenced later this year.

Hawkins’ 24-year-ols son Jmari Hawkins and 23-year-old Jonell Ojeda have also been indicted in the scheme to steal more than $850,000 in emergency rental assistance from the NC HOPE Program (North Carolina Housing Opportunities and Prevention of Evictions).

“This case is yet another example of the greedy taking from the needy,” said U.S. Attorney Michael Easley. “These funds were meant to help struggling families pay their rent, and these defendants stole it. Our office will keep coming for fraudsters who used pandemic relief as a personal piggy bank.”

According to court documents, Takeeia and Shanasia Hawkins admitted to submitting fraudulent applications to the NC HOPE Program claiming to be the landlord of more than 50 properties requesting nearly $500,000 in relief funds. Court documents show that neither woman owned property nor served as a landlord of any property. Documents also show that the NC HOPE Program mailed funds totaling nearly $150,000 to the two women based on the fraudulent applications.

“Treasury OIG is committed to supporting these coordinated efforts to detect and prevent misuse of public funds,” said Acting Inspector General Rich Delmar. “This alleged scheme allowed the members of the Hawkins family and their associates to enrich themselves at the expense of North Carolina renters struggling with housing insecurity during the pandemic.”

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 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.

“The COVID-19 pandemic was a difficult time for so many families, including those in communities across North Carolina,” said NC State Bureau of Investigation Director Robert Schurmeier. “The purpose of emergency relief funds like the NC HOPE Program offered was to provide a lifeline to those struggling to keep a roof over their heads. It is beyond disappointing to know that individuals exploited the crisis for their own personal gain while some of their most vulnerable neighbors risked losing their homes. Such actions undermine the very support systems created to hold our communities together during a crisis or otherwise.”