Mississippi woman accused of faking grant applications to steal COVID-19 relief money

Published 11:48 am Tuesday, October 5, 2021

A Mississippi woman has been charged with fraud for allegedly stealing COVID-19 relief money by falsifying business grant applications, the state auditor said Tuesday.

State Auditor Shad White said Ethel Cain was arrested in Bolivar County after she was indicted for fraud related to the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) “Back to Business” grant program.

A $50,384.19 demand letter was presented to Cain upon arrest. The demand amount includes interest and investigative expenses.

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Cain is accused of using her company, Lifeline Financial Freedom Solutions, to fraudulently submit grant applications on behalf of other businesses to obtain the CARES Act stimulus funding administered by MDA. On multiple occasions, Cain’s company allegedly submitted multiple grant applications for the same company. Cain’s company is also purported to have knowingly submitted grant applications for ineligible businesses. Special Agents identified $38,500 in grant payments made as a result of this purported fraud.

Representatives from MDA and Balch & Bingham LLP reported Lifeline Financial Freedom Solutions to the Auditor’s office after denying several grant applications submitted by the company. Cain submitted nearly $400,000 worth of potentially fraudulent grant applications, the vast majority of which were denied.

“This is my office’s first case arresting someone for COVID stimulus fraud,” said Auditor White. “Others out there thinking of stealing stimulus funds should know: it doesn’t have to be our last.”

Cain surrendered herself at the Bolivar County Sheriff’s office late last night. Bail will be set by the court.

Cain will face up to 15 years in prison and $30,000 in fines if convicted on all charges. All persons arrested by the Mississippi Office of the State Auditor are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. The case will be prosecuted by the Mississippi Attorney General’s office.