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More than a dozen people have filed a lawsuit against a Clermont man who allegedly bilked local investors out of millions in a Ponzi scheme, bringing the number of alleged victims to 20 in what could be the biggest white-collar crime in Hall County history.
The suit’s 16 plaintiffs include at least six Gainesville physicians and a local high school football coach. They are seeking compensatory and punitive damages and are asking a Superior Court judge to freeze the assets of Wendell Spell.
Spell, 50, the former owner of North Georgia Equipment Sales, remains under federal investigation for a scheme that officials believe may have taken investors for tens of millions.
Spell is alleged to have paid returns to those who invested in heavy equipment purchases with the money of other investors before his scheme apparently collapsed in October.
The latest lawsuit, the third such suit to be filed since Spell closed up his business and vanished in October, claims "for the last three years, (Spell and others) have engaged in a conspiracy to defraud and steal from plaintiffs by fraudulently selling items of heavy equipment to plaintiffs. In a scheme commonly referred to as a ‘ponzi’ scheme, defendants stole millions of dollars from plaintiffs and others."
In addition to Spell, other defendants named in the suit include former North Georgia Equipment Sales manager Greg Rowland, Sam Shaw and Deborah Almand.
The plaintiffs who filed the suit include North Hall High School head football coach Bob Christmas and local physicians Ron Brock, Arden Hothem, Frank Lake, Thomas Sholes, Donald Willers and Michael Gottsman.
The other named plaintiffs in the suit are Gaspare Badalamente, Hunter Fleming, Rex Grant, Rick Hamilton, Matt Handte, Jay Hollander, Robert Monroe, Judd Williams and Alan B. Cook.
Last October, David Brannon and local attorney Mike Weaver filed suit against Spell, claiming losses of $500,000 and $3.2 million, respectively. Two other alleged victims identified in court documents filed by Hall County sheriff’s officials, Chad Aman and Michael Smith, have not filed suit.
The latest lawsuit does not specify how much money the local investors claim to have lost to Spell.
"Plaintiffs suffered actual damages and losses as the result of defendants’ multiple thefts by conversion," the lawsuit claims.
The attorney representing the plaintiffs, Buford lawyer Ralph L. Taylor III, did not return a phone message left at his office Friday.
It is not known whether Spell has been served with the lawsuit. It could not be determined if he has a lawyer, and efforts to reach him have been unsuccessful.
The lawsuit lists a Cleveland Highway address for Spell and his wife, Pamela, who is a registered agent for North Georgia Equipment Sales, according to the suit.
For several weeks, Spell’s whereabouts were unknown by sheriff’s officials looking to arrest him on an unrelated bad check warrant. He was booked into the Hall County jail on the charge Feb. 2 and released later that day on a $5,000 bond.
Spell has not been charged in connection with the alleged Ponzi scheme, though a federal indictment could be forthcoming. An FBI spokesman has confirmed the agency was asked to investigate the case, but will not comment further. The U.S. Attorney’s Office will not comment on any pending criminal investigation.