Originally created 12/13/04

Eleven sentenced in loan scam case



COLUMBUS, Ga. - Two mortgage company managers and nine of their employees have pleaded guilty in a loan scheme that bilked more than $3 million from banks and loan companies.

The 11 defendants were given sentences ranging from probation to more than three years in prison after pleading guilty Friday to federal charges of bank fraud. U.S. District Court Judge Clay Land also ordered all of them to jointly pay restitution to Bank of America and United Mortgage Co.

The accused ringleader, 39-year-old Michael Aaron Blount of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., was sentenced to 37 months in prison, followed by five years of probation, as well as paying a share of more than $3 million in restitution. Prosecutors said Blount, a former manager at the Columbus branch of EquiCredit Corp. of Georgia, a Bank of America subsidiary, headed the scheme to process fraudulent refinancing mortgages.

"I was the manager of the company and I accept responsibility for my actions," Blount told the judge. "I could have prevented all of this if I had done the right thing."

Integra Mortgage Inc.'s owner and chief executive, Kenneth Wayne Forsyth, also was implicated in the scheme, although his lawyer said his only involvement was submitting a false application for his own home.

"He knew nothing about the other frauds," said Forsyth's attorney, Mike Reynolds.

Judge Land said he found that "hard to believe" and sentenced the 52-year-old from Columbus to three months in prison, followed by three years of probation, and a $5,000 fine.

Forsyth's former employee, 39-year-old Jeffrey Dwain Edwards of Lakeland, Fla., admitted to processing the fraudulent loan applications while working at Integra.

"I did it willingly and I did it knowingly," said Edwards, who received a 33-month prison term, five years of probation, and a share of the restitution order.

Others sentenced in the scheme Friday included Kenna Jo Dixon, 33, of Columbus; Michael Craig Byrd, 46, of Phenix City, Ala.; Shari M. Wells, 33, of Columbus; Douglass Kirt Walker, 32, of Columbus; Terry Lynn Brown, 35, of Columbus; Stuart Wendell Hall, 41, of Columbus; Gregory Mark Hall, 40, of Columbus; and Alecia Hendrick Hall, 41, of Columbus.