Tifton ex-banker pleads guilty

MACON, Ga. -- Gary Patton Hall Jr., 47, pleaded guilty Thursday to federal charges of conspiracy to commit bank fraud. The plea was entered before U.S. District Court Senior Judge Hugh Lawson in Macon, Court officials say.

According to Michael J. Moore, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, Hall admitted that from 2005 through 2010 he committed bank fraud involving the Tifton Banking Co. during his employment as president and CEO. In addition, Hall admitted that he conspired with others to obtain money, funds, credits, assets, securities and other property of the Tifton Banking Co. while carrying on a practice of replacing non-performing loans with new loans, including a Small Business Administration guaranteed loan, to make the bank appear financially stranger than it was, Moore said.

Prosecutors charged that Hall's actions caused monetary losses to the bank and SBA of approximately $2.8 million. The government says Hall continued the illegal activities during the time the bank applied for and received assistance from the Trouble Asset Relief Program (TARP), a government program established to help financial institutions during a financial crisis.

According to officials, Hall's plea calls for a sentence of 65 months in federal prison based upon an agreement as to what would be the appropriate calculations for determining sentence length under federal guidelines. The decision whether to accept the recommendation will be made by the judge at the time of sentencing, Moore said, with the maximum possible sentence under law 30 years imprisonment and a maximum fine of $1 million, a term of supervised release of up to five years and a mandatory assessment fee of $100. Sentencing is set for Sept. 30, Moore said.

According to officials, the Hall case was investigated by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the special inspector general for TARP, the FBI, the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Tift County Sheriff's Office. Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert D. McCullers handled the prosecution for the government.