Spann pleads guilty in EFI scheme

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 27, 2011

One of the three Andalusia businessmen indicted by a federal grand jury for his involvement in a $53 million loan fraud scheme in Pennsylvania pleaded guilty Monday, and another is set to do the same next month.

John Wiley Spann, who was charged with 15 counts of wrongdoing, admitted to conspiracy, mail fraud affecting a financial institution and money laundering for his part in the Equipment Finance LLC, or EFI, loan fraud.

According to Lancaster Online, a Pennsylvania news organization, Spann initially pleaded not guilty; however, on Monday, “he acknowledged before U.S. District Judge Paul S. Diamond that he was deeply involved in the complicated ruse.”

As the fourth defendant to enter a guilty plea, Spann has agreed to forfeit $7.6 million he pocketed from the fraud.

Sentencing is set for Dec. 15, when Spann could face up to 45 years in prison and a $2.5 million fine.

Spann and local insurance agents Harold Young and John S. Tomberlin, along with five other defendants, allegedly created false loan documents for logging equipment sales through EFI.

Tomberlin is scheduled to plea next month, Lancaster Online reports.

Those who have pled will testify against Young and two other defendants, unless plea deals are reached before the October trial date.

EFI loaned money to logging and land-clearing firms so they could buy new equipment.

The fraud was uncovered in 2007 by EFI owner Sterling Financial, triggering the company’s sale and the layoff of 300 employees.

Spann, who is free on $50,000 bail, was a logging equipment dealer who performed many of the tasks necessary to perpetuate the fraud over at least a six-year period.

According to his admission filed with the court Monday, he helped create “hundreds” of fictitious loans, then recruited and paid “borrowers” to sign the documents.

He also admitted forging “numerous” signatures himself, Lancaster Online reported.

To help dupe auditors, Spann, with another company official’s help, obtained loan-confirmation letters from the auditors to borrowers and put the appropriate “borrower” signatures on them.

Spann admittedly then drove from Alabama to Florida and Georgia to mail them back so the return letters would have the correct postmarks.

He said he also tried to throw auditors off-track by coaching two “borrowers” in how to handle any inquiries from the auditors. For his part, Spann paid himself a “salary” of $80,000 to $100,000 annually for six years, according to the nine-page memorandum.

Spann also used an unspecified amount of EFI money “to pay numerous debts he owed to others” and used $2 million in EFI money to pay the “borrowers” he recruited.

In addition, Spann helped orchestrate a scheme to drain more than $1 million from escrow accounts set up at EFI to hold equipment insurance payments.