Worth County minister sentenced for bank fraud

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Michael J. Moore, United States Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, announced today that Craig A. Howell, 53, of Sylvester, Georgia, was sentenced to serve 12 months in federal prison for making false statements to a federally insured financial institution. The sentence was handed down by the Honorable W. Louis Sands, United States District Court Judge, in Albany, Georgia.

As part of the sentence, the Court entered a Preliminary Order of Forfeiture, ordering Howell to forfeit $100,000.00, or in the alternative, the real property and residence in Worth County which Howell purchased with the fraudulently obtained funds.

On October 7, 2013, Mr. Howell, the pastor of Plantation Parkway Assembly of God Church, in Leesburg, Georgia, pleaded guilty to the indicted charges. According to the plea agreement, Mr. Howell entered an agreement with Brad Heard, Sr., Brad Heard, Jr., and banker Larry Malone to borrow a total of $800,000 from Southwest Georgia Farm Credit under false pretenses. Howell acted largely as a “straw” or conduit to pass approximately $700,000.00 directly to Mr. Heard, Sr., and Mr. Heard, Jr. Howell did not have the means or the intention of repaying these loans himself.

However, Mr. Howell kept $100,000.00 of the loan proceeds for himself. Mr. Howell then falsely represented to Heritage Bank that the $100,000.00 was a gift from his mother.  Mr. Howell caused his mother to sign a fraudulent “gift letter” formally attesting that the $100,000.00 was a gift. He also photocopied the front of a check from his mother payable to him and gave it to Heritage Bank as proof that his mother had given him the down payment as a gift. This check was never negotiated, and in fact, Mr. Howell’s mother had only a few thousand dollars in her checking account at the time.

The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Secret Service, and internal auditors with Southwest Georgia Farm Credit. Assistant United States Attorney James N. Crane represented the Government in the prosecution of the case.

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