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Farmers, reverend plead 'not guilty'

ALBANY, Ga. — Four men accused of bank fraud in a growing investigation stemming from a disgraced Bainbridge bank loan officer entered not guilty pleas in federal court Wednesday.

Court officials say Brad Heard Sr., Brad Heard Jr., Lawton Heard and the Rev. Craig Howell each entered not guilty pleas before U.S. Magistrate Tommy Langstaff and were released on their own recognizance.

The four are the latest indicted in a growing probe of the business dealings of Larry Malone, the former chief lending officer at Southwest Georgia Farm Credit in Bainbridge who has pleaded guilty to fraud and whose sentencing has been delayed pending his cooperation with federal prosecutors.

According to the indictment, Brad Heard Jr., who owned Backwoods Outdoors in Leesburg, borrowed roughly $5 million from SWGFC to purchase real estate in Southwest Georgia and North Florida.

Brad Heard Sr. also borrowed roughly $5 million from SWGFC and, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, acted as a “straw borrower,” meaning he borrowed money from SWGFC on behalf of his son, who had nearly reached the $6 million cap imposed on farm credit loans by the federal government.

Howell, who is the full-time pastor at Plantation Parkway Assembly of God in Leesburg, is alleged in the indictment to have borrowed nearly $817,000 from SWGFC, also on behalf of Brad Heard Jr. The indictment also charges that Howell borrowed $195,000 from the program to purchase a home for himself.

Lawton Heard, the brother of Brad Heard Sr., is accused in the indictment of borrowing $1.7 million from the SWGFC on behalf of his nephew.

In exchange for rubber-stamping the loans, Malone and family members reportedly received thousands of dollars in kickbacks from the Heards, the indictment contends.

Malone is a key figure in at least one other farm loan scheme being prosecuted by the U.S. government. In January, Joseph W. “Wiley” Jordan was indicted on five counts of fraud in connection with a series of loans totaling $3.4 million from June 2007 through January 2008.

Malone was the loan officer at the time and is believed to have paid Jordan $36,000 for referring new borrowers to SWGFC.

Jordan was convicted by a jury in June and is awaiting sentencing.

“Especially during challenging economic times, we will not tolerate this kind of fraud. The financial system works when we all play by the rules and obey the laws,” U.S. Attorney Michael Moore said.

Jordan’s attorney, Buddy Parker, said following the verdict that he’s planning an appeal.

“As the judge said, this was a difficult and hard case,” Parker said. “There was insufficient evidence to support the verdict, and we will appeal.”

Comments

waltspecht 2 years ago

I am curious as to the monetary recovery in these cases. Or was it all carefully set up so no recovery could be made by putting it in others names? Inquiring minds would like to know. It really speaks well of the men to know they had the help of a man of the cloth to steer them in the true path.

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chinaberry25 2 years ago

These men are most likely seasoned crooks of many years. They just have more sophisticated methods today to catch them. But financial institutions would do well to hire folks to check this type of fraud. Do not leave it up to a computer to catch it. It is not hard if you know what you are looking for. The gambling casinos use folks to do it, why not financial institutions? Could it be the higher up on the food chain are doing it and they do not want to be caught.

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RedEric 2 years ago

A self proclaimed minister borrowing money from farm credit to buy a house and they claim lack of evidence. Good grief this is as bad as Pigford. This is a good example of why we should not trust the government with our money. This group should be tarred and feathered then run out on a rail. Pay attention to what the LAW does in this case. Will they get a very mild slap like the guy in Thomasville who looted Medicare?

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Thurman 2 years ago

If you knew the Heard family, and Pastor Howell as I do then you would know that there is something "just not right here".

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Cartman 2 years ago

No need to jump to conclusions. It's very simple: Track the money.

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herewegoagain 2 years ago

This is not the Heard's first rodeo. They sold peanuts out of their warehouse several years ago that belonged to someone else. Somehow someway they were never prosecuted then either. My daddy refer to those kind of folks as 2 cent millionaries. If you buy them for what they are really worth ($.02) and sell them what they think they are worth ($1,000,000) we all be better off.

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ittybittyme 2 years ago

Innocent till proven guilty!

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Amazed2 2 years ago

I suspect the money will tell the Whole Truth and nothing but the Whole Truth. With the loan officer Malone's cooperation I suspect the money trail will be easy evidence for the prosecutor to present. Especially the kickbacks to the loan officer. A Forensic accountant that I quail hunted with told me Cash was easy to follow. One thing about Albany there are a few with real money of thier own but there are a lot of people with other peoples money

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DoctorDorite 2 years ago

Okay, the preacher Howell paid $195 K for a house, what did he spend the other $800 K on, fertilizer ? seed ? chemicals ?, Oh ! he does'nt farm ? Did he get all this money just on his signature ? Remember people, this is "THE FARM BILL" that our good Senator Saxby fights so hard far and does'nt want to let die.

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