COLUMBIA — A former lawyer from Irmo was sentenced to 18 months in prison after he was convicted of defrauding two federal COVID-19 relief funds for at least $1.5 million.
Ray Lord was sentenced March 14 in U.S. District Court in Columbia for submitting fraudulent information about at least three Midlands businesses he operated plus two parcels of farmland, claiming hugely outsized relief checks.
Lewis rejected arguments from Lord’s attorneys that probation would be sufficient punishment, citing the large amount of money involved and the need to show that defrauding the COVID-19 relief program comes with consequences.
“It will be a sign that you cannot do this,” Lewis said.
Lord, a former sheriff’s deputy in Richland County who agreed to plead guilty, apologized for his actions.
“I hurt innocent people who trusted me,” Lord said in court. “I have no excuse for my conduct.”
Lewis did sentence Lord to less time than what federal guidelines for the single count of wire fraud call for, which would have been 51 to 63 months in prison.
She noted Lord has been upfront since being confronted by federal Secret Service agents about the fraud and that the money was repaid. In addition to protecting government VIPs, the Secret Service investigates bank and wire fraud.
According to the federal indictment, Lord illegally received the money from two federal loan programs under the CARES Act, which sought to cushion businesses from the worst effects of COVID-19 lockdowns and economic downturn.
Lord in 2020 and 2021 submitted fraudulent loan claims on behalf of his law firm, a business he owned called Palmetto Safety Supply and New Life Ministries of Irmo, according to the federal indictment.
He also submitted claims for two Chapin-area agricultural businesses.
Lord was facing physical and mental health issues at the time he filed the fraudulent claims, attorney Pete Strom said in his defense, and was worried about caring for his wife and four children.
“He just in his mind panicked about the state of the country,” Strom said.
Lord’s attorneys also highlighted his long time in law enforcement and as a community volunteer, saying he posed no threat that warranted prison time.
On Feb. 10, Lord resigned from the South Carolina Bar after entering a guilty plea in September.
According to the website of his sole practitioner law firm, Lord is a former assistant solicitor in the 9th Judicial Circuit office in Charleston and served as director of the drug court in Charleston County.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Winston D. Holliday Jr. said that many crimes related to COVID-19 relief were committed and that a punishment including prison time was needed to send a strong message.
“You can’t get past the egregiousness of it,” Holliday said in court.
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