Wednesday, March 20, 2013

UPDATE II: former NW Ark. developer named in bank fraud charges

Posted By on Wed, Mar 20, 2013 at 12:24 PM

  • Washington County sheriff's office
40/29 appears to have the early break on big news from Northwest Arkansas. It says:

U.S. Attorney Conner Eldridge will announce shortly in Fort Smith details about the indictment of former high-flying developer Brandon Barber on bank fraud and money laundering charges.

Several others apparently have been charged. Barber was arrested in New York, 40/29 said.

Barber, who's been in bankruptcy, once flew high as a developer in go-go days in Northwest Arkansas. But he's fallen on hard times. Past headlines include being taken into custody in Fayetteville in 2010 (not this week as I originally wrote) related to allegations that he'd written hot checks to cover gambling losses at a Las Vegas casino. He worked out an agreement on that dispute.

UPDATE: Here's the 27-count indictment (an amended version of a Grand Jury indictment first returned in July and unsealed this week.) It also names K. Vaughn Knight, a bankruptcy lawyer for Barber, and James Van Doren of New York. It alleges Barber diverted money loaned by banks — three loans for more than $21 million from Legacy National Bank for the Legacy Condominiums and retail project in Fayetteville; $14.4 million from Metropolitan National Bank for a commercial development on Joyce Boulevard; more than $17 million from the Enterprise Bank of St. Louis for a proposed Bellafont Retail development — to other purposes and that he schemed to conceal assets from creditors in his bankruptcy. Van Doren figured in the latter allegation, at one point supposedly taking a briefcase with $30,000 in cash from Barber as part of the scheming. Knight was accused of using his lawyer's trust account as a vehicle to pass money to Barber out of reach of creditors.

UPDATE II: I had to leave early today and belatedly find the news release from the U.S. attorney in Fort Smith which details this indictment and a second which named two more men, Jeff Whorton and Brandon Rains, in a conspiracy to defraud First Federal Bank of Harrison. News release follows.


Conner Eldridge, United States Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas, Christopher A. Henry, IRS-Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge for the Nashville Field Office, and Randall C. Coleman, FBI Special Agent in Charge, announced today that Brandon L. Barber, age 37 of New York, and four other men were charged with federal crimes stemming from schemes to defraud involving several Northwest Arkansas real estate transactions and Barber’s bankruptcy case. Barber was arrested Wednesday morning in New York, New York. The other individuals charged are K. Vaughn Knight, a 46 year old Fayetteville attorney; James Van Doren, a 37 year old New York attorney; Jeff Whorton, age 45 of Johnson, Arkansas; and Brandon Rains, age 31 of Springdale, Arkansas.

A Grand Jury sitting in Fort Smith, Arkansas, returned two indictments alleging several schemes to defraud banks, creditors, and the Federal Bankruptcy Court. Those schemes, as alleged in the indictments, include: (1) providing false and fraudulent financial information and statements to Legacy National Bank of Springdale in connection with loans to finance the Legacy Condominium building and project in Fayetteville; (2) providing false and fraudulent financial information and statements to Metropolitan National Bank of Little Rock and Enterprise Bank of St. Louis, Missouri, in connection with loans to finance the Bellafont project in Fayetteville; (3) concealing assets and income from creditors and the bankruptcy court by transferring funds to Van Doren and Knight or accounts controlled by them and using those funds for Barber’s personal benefit and expenses; and (4) falsely and fraudulently representing purchase prices for real estate to First Federal Bank of Harrison, Arkansas, to obtain loan amounts exceeding the actual purchase prices and thereby generating excess cash without the Bank’s knowledge or approval. The charged conduct generally occurred from 2005 through 2009.

United States Attorney Eldridge commented, “Prosecuting federal crimes involving fraud is an important priority in the Western District of Arkansas and for the Department of Justice. As alleged in the indictment, this case involves schemes to defraud financial institutions and our federal bankruptcy court. We will continue to pursue and prosecute cases involving schemes designed to defraud and deceive.”

“Honest and law abiding citizens are fed up with the likes of those who use deceit and fraud to line their pockets with other people’s money. Individuals who engage in this type of financial fraud should know they will not go undetected and will be held accountable. IRS-Criminal Investigation is committed to unraveling complex financial transactions and money laundering schemes where individuals attempt to conceal the true source of their money, and we are proud to work with our law enforcement partners by lending our expertise in these complex financial investigations,” stated Special Agent in Charge Henry.

“My office will continue to dedicate agents and financial analysts to investigating corporate fraud cases like this one,” stated FBI Special Agent in Charge Coleman. “This case is a monumental example in Arkansas that the FBI, working closely with our partners, will seek to bring to justice to those persons whom we believe have engaged in fraud for the purposes of personal enrichment.”

As further alleged in the indictments, Barber was involved in residential and commercial real estate development, construction, and sales in Northwest Arkansas. Barber conducted business under several corporate entities that were managed by The Barber Group Inc. From June 2003 to October 2008, entities controlled by or affiliated with Barber secured over $200 million in loans from various financial institutions, including Legacy National Bank of Springdale, Metropolitan National Bank of Little Rock, First Federal Bank of Harrison, and Enterprise Bank of St. Louis.

One of Barber’s entities, Lynnkohn LLC, filed for bankruptcy in August 2008 after Legacy National Bank obtained a $9 million judgment against Barber the previous month. In July of 2009, Barber additionally filed for personal Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection. During this time, K. Vaughn Knight served as Barber’s bankruptcy attorney and James Van Doren was a business associate. Before and after the bankruptcy filings, Barber, Knight, and Van Doren worked together to conceal assets from creditors and the court. These assets were hidden with various transactions and by utilizing several bank accounts, including Knight’s client trust account (also known as an IOLTA account).

The indictment further alleges that starting in August 2008, Barber, Jeff Whorton, and Brandon Rains were involved in a conspiracy to defraud First Federal Bank. During this period, the three made false and fraudulent representations to First Federal when they concealed and misrepresented the sales prices of property in order to obtain higher loan amounts and generate excess cash, which they concealed from the Bank.

A Grand Jury sitting in Fort Smith, Arkansas, returned an indictment on March 6, 2013, containing 27 counts and charging Barber, Knight, and Van Doren. The indictment contains five counts of bank fraud, 15 counts of money laundering, four counts of bankruptcy fraud, and one count each of conspiracy to commit bankruptcy fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Barber was included in all counts of the indictment except for one count of money laundering. Knight was included in one count of conspiracy to commit bankruptcy fraud, two counts of bankruptcy fraud, six counts of money laundering, one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Van Doren was included in one count of conspiracy to commit bankruptcy fraud, one count of bankruptcy fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, three counts of money laundering, and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering

The Grand Jury returned an indictment charging Barber, Whorton, and Rains on January 16, 2013. This indictment contains one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and two counts of money laundering. Barber was named in the charge of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, and Whorton and Rains were included in the bank fraud count and in one count of money laundering each.

The maximum penalties for each crime are: (1) bank fraud—30 years in prison and a $1 million fine; (2) money laundering—10 years in prison and $250,000 fine; (3) conspiracy to commit bankruptcy fraud—five years in prison and a $250,000 fine; (4) bankruptcy fraud by concealment of assets or false statements—five years in prison and a $250,000 fine; (5) conspiracy to commit wire fraud—20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine; (6) conspiracy to commit money laundering—20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine; and (7) conspiracy to commit bank fraud—30 years in prison and $1 million fine.

This case was investigated by the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. United States Attorney Conner Eldridge, First Assistant United States Attorney Wendy Johnson, and United States Attorneys Glen Hines and Benjamin Wulff are prosecuting the case for the United States.

The charges in an indictment are only allegations. A person is presumed innocent unless or until he or she is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in court.

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