Mississippi News

Defendant pleads to conspiracy to steal USDA-Mortgaged Houses

Credit: U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of Mississippi

A Jayess woman pleaded guilty to conspiring to steal houses from the United States Department of Agriculture, announced U.S. Attorney Darren J. LaMarca and Special Agent in Charge Dax Roberson of United States Department of Agriculture, Office of the Inspector General.

According to court documents, Ella Martin, 69, conspired with others to identify and steal USDA-mortgaged properties. The targeted properties were mortgaged through the Brookhaven office of USDA Rural Development, an agency which helps rural residents buy or rent safe, affordable housing, especially low and very-low income individuals. As an employee of that office, Martin had access to a list of abandoned, foreclosed, nearly-foreclosed, or similarly distressed USDA-mortgaged properties and would create fraudulent warranty deeds designed to convey ownership of those properties to co-conspirators and others. The fraudulent deeds included forged signatures from former homeowners, including at least one deceased individual. The fraudulent deeds were then filed in Chancery Courts around Mississippi with the intent to deprive the actual owners of the use and benefit of the properties and to deprive the United States Government of the actual value of the properties.

Martin pleaded guilty to a violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371, which criminalizes conspiracies against the laws of the United States. She is scheduled to be sentenced on September 19, 2023 and faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. A federal district judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Co-defendants Barry Martin and Fiesta Kagler entered guilty pleas last year and are scheduled to be sentenced on June 15, 2023.

The USDA OIG and the Federal Bureau of Investigation investigated the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kimberly T. Purdie is prosecuting the case.

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