Panama City group charged with defrauding taxpayers in COVID-19 scheme

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PANAMA CITY, Fla (WMBB) — A group of local people stole money that was meant to help people trying to make it through the COVID-19 pandemic, Bay County Sheriff’s investigators said Friday.

Eric Bernard Betties, 49, of Panama City, was arrested for scheme to defraud after an investigation that began in November.

Antoinette Dawson
Mary Beach

Investigators said that multiple fraudulent applications for rental assistance from the CARES Act funding were sent to a non-profit agency acting on behalf of Bay County. The forms stated that three separate tenants owed their landlord, Eric Betties, rent money.

Betties received checks in the mail for $1,875, $2,250, and $3,150 and they were all cashed for the full amount. Investigators said Betties had three co-conspirators in the case, Renatta Mathis, 40, of Panama City is charged with a scheme to defraud. Mary Beach, 34, of Panama City, is charged with grand theft. Antoinette Dawson, 36, of Callaway, is charged with grand theft.

County officials found that Betties did not own any of the homes claimed in the applications.

Renatta Mathis

The three women claimed they were behind in rent because of COVID-19, investigators said. But their lies were discovered during an audit by the Bay County Budget Office and Bay County Comptroller, investigators added.

“We appreciate the hard work of the Bay County Sheriff’s Office as they continue to rout out individuals who took advantage of programs intended to benefit those suffering worst during the pandemic,” Bay County Manager Bob Majka said.

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