Former AgGeorgia Loan Officer, Co-Conspirators, Plead Guilty to Fraud

Published 8:15 am Wednesday, February 2, 2022

MACON, Ga. – Co-defendants engaged in a scheme to defraud two agriculture-based financial institutions orchestrated by a former loan officer have pleaded guilty to their crimes.

Johnnie Farrow, 66, of Macon, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud a financial institution today. Previously, co-defendants William Spigener, III, 33, of Columbus, Eary Fuller, 57, of Macon and Demetria Bell, 50, of Macon, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud a financial institution. The defendants each face a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and a $1,000,000 fine. U.S. District Judge Tilman E. “Tripp” Self, III is presiding over the case. Spigener’s sentencing is scheduled for March 9, 2022.  Fuller’s sentencing is scheduled for April 5, 2022.  Bell’s sentencing is scheduled for April 5, 2022.  Farrow’s sentencing is scheduled for May 4, 2022.

“William Spigener recruited willing participants in a scheme to defraud two banks focused on supporting farmers and the agricultural industry, causing significant financial losses and harm,” said U.S. Attorney Peter D. Leary. “Our office will not hesitate to seek federal prosecution against fraudsters who take part in scams that hurt our local businesses, workers and consumers.”

“Spigener violated the trust placed in him by the bank he worked for and now will pay a significant price for his actions, with the potential of many years behind bars,” said Phillip Wislar, Acting Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta. “The FBI will do everything in our power to get justice for companies that have been defrauded by corrupt individuals.”

According to court documents, Spigener orchestrated a scheme to defraud AgSouth Farm Credit and AgGeorgia Farm Credit in Perry, Georgia, where he was employed as a loan officer from Feb. 2012 until his resignation in Feb. 2019. During this time, Spigener recruited co-defendants Farrow, Fuller and Bell to pretend to be borrowers with both institutions. In exchange for using their personal information and appearing at the loan closings, Spigener provided Farrow, Fuller and Bell approximately 10% of the loan proceeds. Spigener would create documentation to ensure the loan applications were approved, even though Farrow, Fuller and Bell were not engaged in farming activity, nor did they have the collateral to back up the loans. Spigener made some repayments on the loans but was unable to repay the vast majority of the loans, and both financial institutions suffered losses. Spigener admits the intended loss amount was more than $550,000 but less than $1.5 million.

The case was investigated by FBI.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Howard is prosecuting the case.

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Beal-Shephard tries to weather the storm over City HallBy Neil B. McGahee Managing Editor Cordele City Commissioner Vesta Beal-Shephard was elected in 2001 to represent the people of Ward One. By all accounts, she has done a very good job of relating to the citizens living in her ward. Recently, however, a dark cloud has settled over City Hall. From the first day of his term, newly-elected commission chairman Joshua Antwan Deriso began taking verbal snipes on social media at some of the other commissioners. Shephard says she just ignored it at first but on April 9, Deriso posted on Facebook “…It was much anticipated for Comm. Rainey to be against change. Comission (sp) Shephard fights against me the hardest…does not know much about government at all…She needs to be voted out next year 2023.” A few days later, he posted live saying …“I am totally over the games, the political stuff…a lot of people want to make what I said about Commissioner Shephard something about disagreement with Commissioner Shephard. It was her ignorance and short-sightedness…not able to understand what we can do as a government. “When there were people in charge that didn’t look like us…white people… she didn’t question anything. Since I became chairman, she has blocked everything…you don’t know what you are doing; you don’t know what you are talking about.” Shephard winces as she listens to Deriso. “I don’t do drama and I don’t do pettiness,” she said. “I refute everything he has said about me. I’m not angry with Josh; I am somewhat disturbed that he has targeted me, a citizen of Cordele; a black female…he accused me of loving white folks. Well I do love white folks, and brown folks and black folks — Haitian, Jamaican, Indian, Cuban, Mexican — I have no discrimination to anyone. My job is to facilitate for people in this ward and when I vote, I vote my conviction.” Shephard said she doesn’t know why Deriso has such hard feelings against her. “It’s so sad, I have to say that I never saw it coming,” she said. ”But I have to voice my opinion.” But one sad thing has evolved from this. “This is the first time I have been discriminated against by a fellow commissioner,” she said. “I used to invite people to my home if they had a problem. But I had to stop that. If you want to meet with me, we will have to go to a public area or to my office at city hall. I am going to keep my distance for the simple reason that I don’t want to endanger myself.