COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — A former Muscogee County Superior Court Clerk Office employee and seven other people are under a 71-count federal indictment for fraud involving a scheme that authorities say netted them nearly a half a million dollars in stolen funds.
That money came from fines collected for felony and misdemeanor criminal offenses, forfeitures resulting from criminal activities, and certain monies received from condemnation accounts.
Willie Demps, who worked for the Clerk’s Office for nearly 30 years as the appointed Chief Deputy Clerk, was indicted on Aug. 12 by a Grand Jury in the Middle District of Georgia. Also indicted were Curtis Porch, Dereen Porch, Terry McBride, Rosalee Bassi, Lamarcus Palmer, George Cook and Samuel Cole.
All eight of them are charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud. Demps, Cole, McBride, Palmer, and Curtis Porch are charged with 36 counts of wire fraud. Demps, Curtis Porch, McBride, and Cole are charged with 33 counts of transportation of stolen goods or money. Cole faces an additional charge of false statements based on what he told the FBI.
On Wednesday, federal prosecutors petitioned the court to have Demps taken into custody because, according to court documents obtained by News 3, Demps is considered a flight risk. The document also noted that Demps posed a, “a serious risk that the defendant will obstruct or attempt to obstruct justice, threaten injure or intimidate or attempt to threaten, injure, or intimidate, a prospective witness or juror.”
‘The Defendant has numerous contacts with persons located outside the United States. Specifically, between approximately 2010-2018, Demps wired or caused to be wired over $500,000 to various locations in Africa,” according to court documents.
The indictment alleges Demps and the co-conspirators conducted the scam in the following ways:
- Demps, as acting Muscogee County Clerk’s office, obtained blank checks written on various accounts held by the “Clerk of Superior Court.”
- Demps then endorsed the checks, filled the dollar amounts, making them payable to one of his co-defendants. Occasionally, Demps filled out checks that had been pre-signed by co-workers, both of whom were unaware the signed checks were being used for any illegal purpose.
- After writing the checks, Demps contacted either of the seven co-defendants, Curtis Porch, Dereen Porch, McBride, Basse, Palmer, Cook, or Cole, to whom the check was endorsed, with instructions to cash the check and return the proceeds to Demps.
- Demps and the seven co-defendants generally met in the Government Center parking lot of Columbus. Occasionally, Demps would travel to the bank where the check was to be cashed, and handed over to that location. At the time checks were written, no co-defendants were employees of the Columbus Consolidated Government, and had no other claim of right to the checks written to them by Demps.
- After receiving the checks, Demps’ co-defendants cashed them at a bank specified by Demps. During the check cashing process, employees at financial institutions would and did call Demps personally, asking him if the checks were legitimate. Demps falsely verified the validity of the instruments.
- At one financial institution, checks written by Demps were cashed with such frequency that the bank tellers had Demps’ direct phone line written on a cork board behind their teller stations.
- After the checks were cashed, the co-defendants would return the money to Demps, who generally gave the co-defendant a portion of the proceeds.
- During the period of January 2019 to November 2019, Demps and his co-defendants obtained at least $467,331 by fraud through cashing checks stolen from the Muscogee County Clerk’s office, as described above.
The money was taken from three banks — Synovus Financial Corp., SunTrust Bank and Colony Bank. The banks were located in Alabama and Georgia.