Former business owner pleads guilty

ALBANY — A former outdoor activities store owner pleaded guilty to a federal crime last week, court officials say. According to U.S. District Court records, Brad Heard Jr., former owner of Backwoods Outdoors in Leesburg, admitted Thursday to one charge of commission or gifts for procuring a loan. A court date will be set for Heard to be sentenced for the offense, court officials say.

In December, Heard and three others were indicted in connection with loan fraud allegations. The indictment stated that Brad Heard Jr. borrowed roughly $5 million from Southwest Georgia Farm Credit in Bainbridge to purchase real estate in Southwest Georgia and north Florida.

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

Also indicted was the Rev. Craig Howell, pastor at Plantation Parkway Assembly of God in Leesburg, who is alleged to have borrowed nearly $817,000 from SWGC on behalf of Heard Jr., and $195, 000 from the program to purchase a home for himself.

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

All four named in the indictments had initially pleaded not guilty in federal court.