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2 cry foul over Ponzi scheme equipment seizure

POSTED: April 4, 2009 1:49 a.m.

So far the only things federal authorities have found worth seizing from admitted Ponzi schemer Wendell Spell are 10 pieces of heavy equipment worth perhaps $300,000.

But two men say some of those Caterpillars and Bomags belong to them, not Spell.

U.S. District Judge William C. O’Kelley this week granted a request by prosecutors allowing the government to hold on to the disputed machinery until after Spell is sentenced on a single count of wire fraud.

It’s the latest chapter in the so-far futile efforts of Spell’s victims, who number as many as 50, to recoup some portion of the estimated $60 million he stole from them in an investment scam.

Spell is named as a defendant in three separate lawsuits filed in Hall County Superior Court by a total of 18 people, but he has been in hiding and has yet to be served. Earlier this year, two men contested the FBI’s November seizure of heavy equipment in connection with the case, according to documents filed in federal court this week.

Chad Aman, owner of Aman Equipment, Inc., claimed three pieces of machinery belonged to him, while Franklin D. Fowler claimed secured interest or ownership in six pieces of equipment, according to court documents. Both men claim that a 2007 Bomag asphalt compactor belongs to them.

The dispute is similar to claims made in October in which more than one person believed they owned a piece of equipment that Spell sold them through his Aviation Boulevard business, North Georgia Equipment Sales.

Spell is believed to have sold the same piece of equipment to more than one person on several occasions. Prosecutors say his scheme involved getting people to invest in heavy equipment, which he claimed he would sell to a third party at a substantial profit. Some investors were promised interest payments of 36 percent annually.

The scheme collapsed in October. Spell pleaded guilty March 23 to defrauding a customer who wired him $200,000 from Talladega, Ala.

A court document filed this week identifies the victim as Interstate Equipment Sales and Rental.

Officials from a Saudi construction company e-mailed The Times last week to report being defrauded by Spell. Projects House Contracting of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, provided documents that purported to show it paid $82,500 to Spell’s company in February and April 2008 for two Komatsu dozers that were never delivered.

Spell faces up to 20 years in prison. A sentencing date has not been set. He remains free on $25,000 bond, living in a location that has been placed under court-ordered seal out of concerns for his safety.



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