Plea entered, trial date set in federal fraud case

ALBANY — A guilty plea has been entered and a trial date has been set in connection with a federal fraud case, court officials said Monday.

U.S. District Court records show that Brad Heard Jr., former owner of Backwoods Outdoors in Leesburg, has admitted to one charge of commission or gifts for procuring a loan. In December, Heard and three others were indicted in connection with loan fraud allegations.

An official with Clerk of Courts office for the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia said Monday that Brad Heard Sr., the former business owner’s father, who was also named in the indictment, had entered a guilty plea in connection to the case on Friday — and that the Rev. Craig Howell of Plantation Parkway Assembly of God in Leesburg and Lawton Heard were set to go to a jury trial on Oct. 21 before U.S. District Judge Louis Sands in connection to the case.

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 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 Howell, who is alleged to have borrowed nearly $817,000 from SWGFC on behalf of Heard Jr. as well as $195,000 from the program to purchase a home for himself.

Lawton Heard, the brother of Brad Heard Sr., is indicted for allegedly 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.