NATCHEZ, Miss. (AP) — A Mississippi woman has pleaded guilty to conspiring to steal houses that were mortgaged by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, federal prosecutors said.
Ella Martin, 69, of Jayess, pleaded guilty Thursday before U.S. District Judge David Bramlette in Natchez to a violation of a federal statute that criminalizes conspiracies against the laws of the United States, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Mississippi said in a news release Monday.
Court documents show Martin conspired with others to identify and steal USDA-mortgaged properties that were processed through the Office of USDA Rural Development in Brookhaven. The agency helps low-income, rural residents buy or rent safe, affordable housing, prosecutors said.
As an employee, Martin had access to a list of abandoned, foreclosed, nearly-foreclosed or similarly distressed properties and created fraudulent warranty deeds designed to convey ownership of those properties, records show. The deeds included forged signatures from former homeowners, including at least one person who was deceased, and the fake deeds were filed in chancery courts throughout the state “with the intent to deprive the actual owners of the use and benefit of the properties and to deprive the federal government of the properties' actual value,” the news release said.
Sentencing is set for Sept. 19. She faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Co-defendants in the case, Barry Martin and Fiesta Kagler, pleaded guilty last year and are scheduled for sentencing on June 15.