A former Cornelia banker pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday to a conspiracy charge related to fraud at the Cornelia-based Community Bank & Trust he once led as its executive vice president and chief credit officer.
Robert Randal Jones, 50, stood still at a podium for most of his hourlong hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan S. Cole in U.S. District Court in Gainesville. The hearing concluded around 4:45 p.m. with a simple question and answer.
"Are you, in fact, guilty?" Cole asked.
"Yes, ma'am," Jones said.
He agreed with the felony count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and what prosecutors described as his leadership role in arranging bogus loans and kickbacks and giving false information on bank documents between February 2005 and May 2009.
U.S. Attorney Russell Phillips told the court losses totaled between $2.5 million and $7 million.
Three men also were connected to the conspiracy that Jones led because of his position with CB&T, Phillips told the court.
Joseph C. Penick Jr., 50, of Cornelia and Douglas C. Emig, 55, of Clarkesville each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud on Aug. 27.
Additionally, Berrong Moulton, 44, of Cleveland pleaded guilty to the same crime on Sept. 30.
In court documents related to the three men's cases, prosecutors detail how Jones, as the banker, worked with each of the men, who were CB&T customers at the time.
Penick and Emig cooperated with Jones on two separate land purchases and sales in Hart County, the U.S. Attorneys Office reported. As a result, each of the men received profits and kickbacks totalling hundreds of thousands of dollars, Phillips told the court.
How Jones, who also goes by Randy, worked with Moulton differed, court documents show. A real estate developer and home builder, Moulton arranged with Jones to have $2.8 million in CB&T loans authorized in Moulton's family members' names as well as a fictitious company called ABK Designs.
The family, including Moulton's 70-year-old mother, knew nothing about the loans and did not benefit from them, lawyers said. Moulton used the money to pay his own past-due CB&T loans, which might've tipped of bank regulators to the size of his loans and inability to pay them off.
Jones' family members, several of whom accompanied him into Cole's courtroom, were also mentioned during Thursday's hearing. Jones secured more than $800,000 from CB&T through loans set up in his family members' names without their knowledge, lawyers said.
U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates commented on the case in a published release after Jones' hearing.
"Bank fraud is a critical problem affecting the whole country but has hit Georgia especially hard," she said. "Sadly, much of the problem stems from fraud like this. Prosecuting bank fraud is a major priority of the Department of Justice and this office will continue to lead the way with cases like this one."
Each man could be sentenced up to 30 years in prison and face maximum million dollar fines. Jones has also agreed to forfeit proceeds and property resulting from the crime.
Penick, Emig and Moulton are scheduled to be sentenced before U.S. District Judge William C. O'Kelley at 10 a.m. March 17.
No sentencing date has been scheduled for Jones, who was released on a $5,000 signature bond and ordered to remain in the region. His plea must first be accepted by O'Kelley before sentencing.
Jones resigned from the bank in July 2009. Federal investigators closed CB&T six months later. Soon after, Columbia-based South Carolina Bank and Trust bought the institution.