Trio Sentenced in Scheme to Defraud USDA-Owned Properties

Published 4:32 pm Thursday, December 28, 2023

Three individuals have been sentenced for involvement in a scheme targeting houses owned by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Barry Martin, 47, of Georgia, received a 46-month prison sentence, along with Fiesta Kagler, 59, also of Georgia. Ella Martin, 69, of Jayess, Mississippi, a former USDA employee, was sentenced to 35 months in prison for her role in the scheme.

According to court documents, the trio conspired to identify and acquire USDA-mortgaged properties, primarily through the Brookhaven office of USDA Rural Development. This agency assists rural residents in obtaining safe, affordable housing, focusing on low and very low-income individuals.

Ella Martin, exploiting her position within the USDA, had access to a list of abandoned, foreclosed, or distressed USDA-mortgaged properties. She crafted fraudulent warranty deeds, purporting to transfer ownership of these properties to her co-conspirators and others. The deeds included forged signatures, some from former homeowners, including at least one deceased individual.

The fraudulent deeds were subsequently filed in Chancery Courts across Mississippi, with the alleged intent to deprive the legitimate owners of the properties of their rightful use and benefits. Additionally, the scheme aimed to defraud the United States Government of the actual value of the properties.

In the aftermath of their convictions, all three defendants will be required to pay restitution, the exact amount of which will be determined in a separate hearing.

U.S. Attorney Todd W. Gee and Special Agent in Charge Dax Roberson of the USDA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) jointly announced the sentencing. In collaboration with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the USDA OIG conducted a thorough investigation into the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kimberly T. Purdie led the prosecution.