Prosecution rests in fraud trial for Regina Preetorius

Barbara Frances thought she had gotten Regina Preetorius out of her life until she went to pay the property taxes on her mother’s rental property and discovered Preetorius’ company SDA & Associates owned it, Frances testified Thursday.

“I felt as if I betrayed her,” Frances said of her mother, who entrusted her to manage the rental property.

Preetorius has pleaded not guilty to 14 counts of mail and wire fraud and three counts of money laundering. Federal prosecutors rested their case Thursday afternoon. If the defense chooses, it may present witnesses in U.S. District Court in Augusta beginning at 9 a.m. today.

Frances testified she was looking to sell her mother’s rental property when she came across an ad for SDA. The home was difficult to rent because it was expensive and they were behind on taxes and the mortgage.

Preetorius needed power of attorney from Frances’ mother so she could make a quick sale, Frances testified. Her mother signed the document in mid-August 2007. A few days later Frances said she received a letter from Preetorius asking her to pay the back taxes and two months rent, and indicated Preetorius intended to borrow money on the property. Frances testified she immediately called Preetorius and told her the deal was off and to cancel the power of attorney. She wrote a letter stating the same that day, Aug. 20, 2007, and mailed and faxed copies to Preetorius, Frances testified.

Two days later, a quit claim deed was legally recorded that transferred ownership of the rental property to SDA. Preetorius signed the deed on behalf of Frances and her mother.

Frances testified she still pays the taxes and mortgage but has trouble managing the property because it remains in SDA’s name.

LaKenya Barthelemy also found SDA online when she sought to sell the home she and her husband purchased when they moved to the Augusta area after Hurricane Katrina. They had already returned to their former home in Vidalia, La., when she called Preetorius. The March 23, 2007, deal was that Preetorius would take over the mortgage payments, sell the house and they would split the profit, Barthelemy testified.

About a week after Barthelemy signed the form giving Preetorius power of attorney to sell the home on East Pine Ridge Drive, a warrant deed was filed transferring ownership to SDA. Preetorius signed on behalf Barthelemy and her husband.

“I had no idea,” Barthelemy testified.

In June, Barthelemy received a foreclosure notice at her Louisiana home. She tried calling Preetorius but she could never get through. The bank eventually foreclosed, ruining the family’s credit.

Catherine Heath was thrilled to have the winning bid for 1545 E. Pine Ridge Drive. She signed the closing documents on Oct. 4, 2007, paying $10,000 down. She made monthly payments of $1,350. In February she got a letter at her home that was addressed to the Barthelemy family. It was a foreclosure notice.

Preetorius said it was just a mistake, that she had bought the home from the Barthelemy family. Heath believed her because before buying the house, she had checked the county property records, which listed the owner as SDA. She continued making her monthly payments to SDA, Heath testified.

On June 22, 2008, Heath was given two days to get out of the house. She had two children and nowhere to go but her mother’s one-bedroom home.

She never got the $10,000 down payment back.

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