Financial adviser arrested on theft charges

ALBANY — The investigation of an embezzlement scheme connected to Southwest Georgia to the tune of more than $800,000 resulted in an arrest last week.

James Ryan Lanier, 33, was arrested in San Diego on Thursday on fraud, money laundering and identity theft charges relating to the embezzlement of more than $800,000 in funds from Merrill Lynch clients, a news release from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Jacksonville Division states.

An 65-count indictment charges that between 2008 and 2010 while working as a financial adviser at Merrill Lynch, Lanier transmitted fraudulent letters of authorization bearing forged client signatures to Merrill Lynch client associates who were responsible for processing wire transfers of client funds. The letters contained false and misleading statements designed to induce the client associates to wire transfer funds from client investment accounts to bank accounts held and controlled by Lanier, the release said.

The indictment states that Lanier purposely sought assistance from client associates who were unfamiliar with his clients. In directing the transfers of these funds, Lanier falsely claimed he had obtained voice approval from Merrill Lynch clients on a recorded telephone line, the release says.

Federal authorities say that Lanier used the embezzled client funds to make loan payments and to purchase vehicles and a condominium in Albany, as well as to buy an interest in a cellular telecommunications business.

If convicted, Lanier faces maximum sentences of 30 years in prison on each count of wire and mail fraud, and a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for money laundering. If convicted of aggravated identity theft, Lanier faces a separate mandatory minimum sentence of two years in prison, which must be served consecutively to any other sentence, officials say.

Lanier is set to be formally arraigned at an initial appearance at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles A. Stampelos in Tallahassee, Fla.

The government’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Coody.