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Gainesville man charged with 14 counts only has to serve one year in jail
Amanda Starr Bryant, 31, left, and her husband, Benjamin Russell Smith, 40, were charged with identity theft and booked Wednesday into the Hall County Jail, where they remain. - photo by For The Times

A Gainesville man, who was charged with 14 counts including identity fraud and theft by receiving stolen mail, accepted a plea deal that decreased his jail time by potentially more than a decade.

Benjamin Russell Smith, 41, took a negotiated plea deal for one year in confinement followed by four years of probation, according to court documents. Smith will receive credit for time served since August 23, 2017 when he was arrested by Oakwood and Hall County authorities. He pleaded guilty Dec. 4 to all counts, including one felony count of theft by receiving, five misdemeanor counts of theft by receiving, six counts of identity fraud, one count of fourth-degree forgery and one count of reckless conduct.

Under Georgia law, the forgery, reckless conduct and misdemeanor counts of theft by receiving all carry a maximum 12 months in jail. Identity fraud and the felony theft by receiving sentence could be between one and 10 years incarceration. If the judge had sentenced Smith with the minimum jail time for the felonies and maximum on the misdemeanors consecutively, the total sentence would have been 14 years.

Smith and his co-defendant, Amanda Starr Bryant, of Gainesville, were occupying a U-Haul van at the Flowery Branch McDonald’s.

The investigators discovered “stolen mail, credit cards, checks” and more items involving personal identification.

“The total amount of checks for victims who live outside of Hall County was at least $121,259.15 not including multiple checks recovered for Hall County victims,” according to Oakwood Police.

The mail came from businesses and residences from at least 17 cities and seven counties, according to Oakwood Police.

Bryant’s case is still pending, according to court records.

Smith’s attorney David Hoffer did not return a request for comment Friday, Dec. 28.

Oakwood Police said the suspects used a $419.90 forged check to purchase merchandise at a Walmart in July 2017.

More than a dozen victims are listed in the indictment.

Smith was ordered to pay $419.90 in restitution to the forgery victim as well as 40 hours of community service. This case will run concurrent with another case recently closed out in Hall County.

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