Two plead guilty; one faces trial in theft of USDA property
One person is set for trial while a second person has entered a guilty plea in connection with a plot to steal mortgaged houses from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, according to documents from the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Mississippi, Western Division.
Ella Martin, a former employee of the USDA Rural Development office at Brookhaven, made an initial appearance on Dec. 19, 2022, in Jackson, where she was arraigned on a several part indictment including:
Counts 1 and 1s, conspiracy to commit fraud by wire, television or radio; Counts 2 and 2s, theft of government money or property; Counts 3-6 and 3s-5s, aggravated identity theft; Count 6s and Count 7, conspiracy to commit offense.
The government charged the three conspired to identify and steal USDA mortgaged properties. The targeted properties were mortgaged through the Brookhaven office of USDA Rural development, an agency which helps rural residents buy or rent safe, affordable housing, especially low and very-low income individuals.
Co-conspirators had access to a list of abandoned, foreclosed, nearly-foreclosed or similarly distressed USDA-mortgaged properties and would create fraudulent warranty deeds designed to convey ownership of those properties to co-conspirators and others.
The fraudulent deeds included forged signatures from former homeowners including at least one deceased individual.
The fraudulent deeds were then filed in Chancery Courts around Mississippi with the intent to deprive the actual owners of the use and benefit of the property and to deprive the U.S. Government of the actual value of the properties.
Ella Martin remains free on $10,000 unsecured bond pending trial, set for July 23, 2023, in U.S. District Court at Natchez.
Earlier, Barry Martin, Ella Martin’s son, entered a plea of guilty to Count 6s of the indictment on Nov. 9, 2022, according to a U.S. Department of Justice press release.
Another named in the indictment, Fiesta Kaigler, changed her plea to guilty before U.S. District Judge David C. Bramlett III on Dec. 13, 2022. Like Barry Martin, Kaigler pleaded guilty to Count 6s.
The two pleaded guilty to conspiring to steal houses from the USDA.
Both Kaigler and Barry Martin are set for sentencing March 9, 2023. Previously, the two operated a Tylertown restaurant, Velma Jean’s Chicken and Waffles.
According to the plea agreements for the two, each faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison. A federal district judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Kaigler and Martin remain free on $10,000 unecured bond while awaiting sentencing.