Fitzgerald man handed federal court sentence, two found illegally in southwest Georgia

An Atlanta resident who pleaded guilty for his role in a check-cashing scheme targeting Publix grocery stores in Georgia, Florida and Alabama has been remanded to federal custody.

COLUMBUS — The ring-leader of a massive and lengthy scheme to drain the Muscogee County Clerk of Courts’ coffers of millions of dollars was sentenced to prison for his crime along with five co-defendants recently.

Willie Demps, 64, of Phenix City, Ala., and the former Deputy Clerk of Court for Muscogee County was sentenced to serve the guideline maximum of 121 months imprisonment for conspiracy to commit bank fraud. On each of the two counts of tax evasion, he was given 60 months imprisonment with 12 months to be served consecutively to the bank fraud sentence. The total amount of imprisonment is 145 months to be followed by five years of supervised release.

U.S. District Judge Clay Land handed down the sentence and ordered Demps to pay $1,323,045.21 in restitution to the Muscogee County Clerk of Court’s Office and $359,604 to the IRS, joint and severable with the other defendants, and advised that Demps’s retirement benefits be garnished to pay the restitution. In addition, the government has requested a money judgement for $1,095,991, which will be ruled upon at a later date. There is no parole in the federal system.

“Willie Demps was the mastermind of an extraordinary, years-long theft of the Muscogee County taxpayers, stealing millions of dollars from its citizens under the guise of a trusted county employee,” U.S. Attorney Peter D. Leary said. “Demps has been brought to justice for his crimes thanks to the unwavering persistence of FBI and IRS investigators, who teamed up with federal prosecutors to map out the complex fraud and bring those involved in this scheme accountable.”

“The FBI was proud to work alongside our federal and local partners in this multimillion-dollar bank fraud investigation that uncovered a decade of illegal conduct by Demps and his codefendants,” Keri Farley, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta, said. “This lengthy sentence will hold Demps accountable for cheating U.S. taxpayers and hopefully bring closure to all who were affected by his crimes.”

“Demps abused his position as Deputy Clerk of Courts while engaging in a series of fraudulent financial transactions devised to siphon funds from the community,” Special Agent in Charge of IRS Criminal Investigation Atlanta Field Office James E. Dorsey said. “IRS Criminal Investigation is proud to have assisted our federal partners in unraveling the criminal activity undertaken by Demps for his personal benefit. Pooling the skills of each agency makes a formidable team as we investigate allegations of wrongdoing. Today’s sentencing demonstrates our collective efforts to enforce the law and ensure public trust.”

The following co-defendants were sentenced for conspiracy to commit bank fraud:

♦ Terry McBride, 45, of Smiths Station, Ala., was sentenced to serve 24 months in prison to be followed by five years of supervised release and pay $299,285 in restitution.

♦ Samuel Cole, 73, of Columbus, was sentenced to serve 18 months in prison to be followed by five years of supervised release and pay $387,020 in restitution.

♦ George Cook, 33, of Columbus, was sentenced to time served, five years of supervised release and to pay $215,196 in restitution.

The following co-defendant was sentenced for misprision of a felony:

♦ Lamarcus Palmer, 35, of Smiths Station, was sentenced to serve one year probation and pay $12,606 in restitution.

The following co-defendant was sentenced for interstate transportation of stolen property:

♦ Rosalie Bassi, 66, of Phenix City, was sentenced to serve five years of probation and pay $61,896.46 in restitution.

The following co-defendants will be sentenced on June 14 after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud:

♦ — Curtis Porch, 48, and Dereen Porch, 43, both of Columbus.

According to court documents, Demps worked for the Muscogee County Clerk for approximately 30 years and supervised money deposits received by the Clerk’s Office. The Clerk’s Office received money from fines and condemnations, and payments were frequently made in cash. From at least 2010 to 2019, Demps maintained a safe in his office to store sums of cash that were collected by the Clerk’s Office. During the business day, this safe was rarely locked, even when Demps was away from his office.

Demps (or his designee) was responsible for depositing cash received by the Clerk’s Office into an appropriate Clerk of Superior Court bank account. Records indicate that the Clerk’s Office received more than $5.5 million in cash during the period of 2010-2019, yet only a single cash deposit of approximately $210 was made into official Columbus accounts in 2019. No cash deposits were made in other years.

From Oct. 19, 2010, to approximately Nov. 27, 2019, Demps issued at least 330 Clerk of Superior Court checks payable to the named co-defendants, and to some individuals not named, with a face value of at least $1.3 million. The co-defendants cashed the checks and returned the money to Demps, who would give the participating co-defendant a portion of the money. Demps admits he used the money for personal expenses, to send money to foreign countries and to spend at casinos.

FBI and IRS investigated the case, with assistance from the Columbus Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Amy Helmick prosecuted the case for the government. Retired Assistant U.S. Attorney Mel Hyde initiated the prosecution of this case.

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