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Former USDA employee pleads guilty after trying to steal mortgaged houses

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A Jayess woman has pleaded guilty to conspiring to steal houses from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) while working at the Brookhaven office of USDA Rural Development.

According to court documents, 69-year-old Ella Martin conspired with others to identify and steal the USDA-mortgaged properties through her position at the agency, which helps rural residents buy or rent safe, affordable housing.

As an employee of that office, Martin 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.

Martin’s fraudulent acts involved forging signatures from former homeowners, including at least one from a deceased individual.

The fraudulent paperwork would then be filed in Chancery Courts across Mississippi with the intent to deprive the actual owners of the use and benefit of the properties and to deprive the U.S. government of the actual value of the properties.

Since then, Martin has pleaded guilty to a violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371, which criminalizes conspiracies against the laws of the United States.

She is scheduled to be sentenced on September 19 and faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison as well as a $250,000 fine.

A federal district judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Co-defendants Barry Martin and Fiesta Kagler entered guilty pleas last year and are scheduled to be sentenced on June 15.

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