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UPDATE: Salvation Army general secretary speaks on alleged illegal distribution of COVID-relief funds
salvation army

COVINGTON, Ga. — Newton County’s district attorney’s office is investigating the county government’s allegations that a Salvation Army employee forged or manipulated documents used to qualify area residents for federal COVID-19 relief funds.

Major Bob Parker, general secretary of the Army’s Georgia Division, said Friday it was a Covington service center employee who had worked for the agency for less than three months.

“We had an employee who we discovered was clever enough to find a way around our processes and procedures to falsify assistance claims and utilize these funds that we were partnering with the county to distribute to those in need,” Parker said.

The county hired the Covington branch of the service agency earlier this year to distribute federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to those whose incomes were affected by COVID-19 during the height of the pandemic in 2020 and 2021. 

The funds were intended to be given to those who qualified for the money to pay past-due mortgage, rental and utility payments. The Salvation Army also was to develop the applications used to determine residents’ eligibility for the money.

However, the Salvation Army completed an internal audit that revealed evidence of forged or manipulated documents the service agency produced for applications for the funding, said county spokesman Bryan Fazio.

The Salvation Army alerted the county government Wednesday, Sept. 14, about possible misappropriation of the funding, Fazio said. The Newton County District Attorney’s office and other law enforcement agencies have begun a criminal investigation, he said.

“Newton County is outraged at these actions from the Salvation Army and is supporting the DA’s investigation in every way possible. The county has instructed the Salvation Army, which was hired as an external operator to manage this program in April, to cease distribution of funds until the matter is investigated further,” Fazio said in a statement.

The agreement between the Salvation Army and Newton County requires that the agency repay the county “for any misappropriation of funds,” he said.

“Newton County will be pursuing reimbursement of the funds as swiftly as possible,” Fazio said.

District Attorney Randy McGinley confirmed his office and the Covington Police Department were actively investigating the allegations. However, he said he could not provide more specific details in order to “protect the integrity of the investigation.”

Parker said he could not be specific about her identity or the amount of money because it was an ongoing investigation.

“It’s an individual who found an opportunity,” Parker said. “All we know is she was manipulating funds.”

The Salvation Army acted quickly to terminate the employee and contact police who arrested her after it found out about the crime, Parker said.

He said he hoped the agency could continue to help those who qualify because many are in need of the money. However, he said such service will have to be worked out with the county government.

However, county officials placed on the agenda for the Tuesday, Sept. 20, regular Board of Commissioners meeting that the Board planned to discuss "potential litigation regarding the Salvation Army."