Man guilty of stealing life savings

Families listen to schemer apologize in federal court

Dan and Mildred McAvoy will never know how much of their money Walter Marion Williams stole.

 

The Washington, Ga., couple died within five days of each other last summer, just a few months before the FBI began investigating Williams, an Augusta insurance agent, on accusations that he defrauded at least 16 investors out of almost $2 million.

Dan was a small-time turkey farmer. Mildred, his wife, was a seamstress for a textile plant.

The couple didn't have much money, but what they did have, they saved for their children.

All of that is gone now.

"They believed that he was a trustworthy person and a good Christian," said Claudia McAvoy, the couple's daughter-in-law. "They never would have thought he would have done anything like this."

What Williams did -- to devastating effect -- was devise a scheme that ultimately led to the theft of $1.7 million from his friends, family and longtime customers.

On Wednesday, he stood before many of those same people in federal court to plead guilty to those crimes.

Over a roughly 17-year period that began in May 1992, Williams, who at one time owned the insurance and investment company Walt Williams Insurance Associates on Wheeler Road, took thousands from his clients to invest in what he claimed were high-return investments, according to charges brought by the U.S. Attorney's Office. But the money never made it into the accounts he promised.

In court testimony, FBI Special Agent Paul Kubala described how Williams admitted to him last October that he had embezzled the money for his own use.

"Mr. Williams deposited those proceeds in his business and personal accounts and did not invest those proceeds as indicated," Kubala said. "It's sad because the makeup of the individual investors, a lot of them, this is their life savings. They trusted Mr. Williams."

As the scam continued and investors began inquiring about their money, Williams began gambling frequently, traveling to Las Vegas and Atlantic City to try to win money to cover his crimes.

"Mr. Williams told us when we interviewed him at the end he was entering poker tournaments -- gambling tournaments -- on the hope of hitting it big to pay off the investors," Kubala testified. "That has not happened."

As the investors became more aggressive, Kubala said, Williams began running a kind of "ponzi scheme," using money from one account to pay another.

In court, Kubala described it as "robbing Peter to pay Paul."

Well-dressed and clear-spoken, Williams faced U.S. District Court Judge J. Randal Hall on Wednesday and confessed.

Calmly, he told the judge he used the bulk of the money to pay bills and only a small amount to gamble. Behind him, at least 15 victims and their representatives watched intently for an apology. A few of them shook their heads when it came.

"I took money and used it for my own personal use," Williams said. "That was wrong, and I'm ashamed of what I've done. I hurt a lot of good people. I had every intention of giving them their money back and I wasn't able to do it."

Lamar LeRoy doesn't believe a word of it. Friends with Williams since the two were in their 20s and doing iron work at Savannah River Site, LeRoy said he believes Williams still has the bulk of the stolen money.

"There's not going to be any restitution because he's hid his money," LeRoy said.

As part of his plea deal, the court could order Williams to repay the victims. He also faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, a fine of $250,000 and three years of supervised release, according to a news release.

Until his sentencing -- which has yet to be scheduled -- he is free on bond. There's to be no drinking, no travel outside the area and -- at the request of the U.S. attorneys -- no gambling.