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Numbers in fraud case are swelling

Warrant: ‘30 to 35’ did business with Spell

POSTED: November 5, 2008 5:00 a.m.
STEPHEN GURR/The Times

A calling card from the Hall County Sheriff's office is taped to the door of Wendell Spell's business, North Georgia Equipment Sales, along with notices of summons for nonpayment of rent. Spell is believed to have bilked dozens of investors for as much as $30 million.

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The alleged victims of suspected Ponzi schemer Wendell Spell could number between 30 and 35 in Hall County alone in what is thought to be the largest white-collar crime in local history, according to documents filed in Hall County Magistrate Court this week.

Meanwhile, the FBI would not confirm reports from several sources, who did not want to be quoted, that Spell was questioned by authorities with an attorney present on Monday in Gainesville.

Steve Emmett, a spokesman for the FBI’s Atlanta office, said this week he could not comment on the ongoing investigation. So far no criminal charges have been brought against Spell, who is believed to have defrauded dozens of victims across the country for as much as $30 million by marketing fraudulent investments in the purchase and sale of heavy equipment.

The U.S. Attorney’s office may seek an indictment from a federal grand jury before Spell is arrested, if charges are brought.

The names of more alleged victims emerged in a court filing made public this week in magistrate court. A search warrant affidavit submitted by Hall County Sheriff’s Investigator Scott Lilly stated that he met with Gainesville attorney Mike Weaver and Chad Aman, owner of Dimensions, a nondurable goods company on Bethel Road.

Weaver filed a civil suit against Spell claiming damages of $3.2 million. Both Weaver and Aman told Lilly "they have invested large sums of money ... as much as $1 million or more," Lilly wrote in the affidavit.

Matt Handte, a senior sales manager at local trucking company Turbo Logistics, told Lilly he invested almost $300,000 with Spell in September, according to the affidavit.

A fourth victim was identified in the document as Michael Smith, who told the investigator he gave Spell $57,000 for a Caterpillar bulldozer. A fifth victim, David Brannon, filed suit against Spell claiming losses of $255,000.

The Oct. 15 search of Spell’s Aviation Boulevard business, North Georgia Equipment Sales, apparently took on a sense of urgency for investigators. The document shows that Magistrate Judge David Burroughs signed off on the warrant at 1:05 a.m. Authorities seized computers and some paper documents from the offices, according to the search warrant return’s inventory.

While only five alleged victims have been identified in court documents, there may be dozens more in Hall County. Weaver told the investigator that "30 to 35 other investors are or have been in (the) recent past in business transactions with Wendell Spell."

Spell, 50, is alleged to have convinced investors to put up money for the purchase of heavy equipment, which he then promised to sell and split the profits with the investor. But several alleged victims say he sold the same piece of equipment to more than one buyer.

Spell reportedly signed over 60 pieces of heavy equipment to Weaver after Weaver confronted him on Oct. 11 and "threatened Mr. Spell with incarceration," according to Lilly’s affidavit. By Oct. 14, Spell had left town.

The owner of the building that housed Spell’s business was granted a dispossessory order for nonpayment of rent on Oct. 24, court records show.

Meanwhile, the Internet continues to buzz over the case. By Saturday, there had been 455 posts on a discussion board about North Georgia Equipment Sales, many from people claiming to be victims. And "Wendell Spell" was the seventh-most searched "Wendell" on the Internet search site Google.



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