Third defendant pleads guilty in Brookhaven-based conspiracy to steal USDA-mortgaged houses

Published 3:59 pm Monday, May 22, 2023

A Jayess woman has pleaded guilty to conspiring to steal houses from the United States Department of Agriculture. She is the third defendant to plead guilty in this case.

According to court documents, 69-year-old Ella Martin conspired with others to identify and steal USDA-mortgaged properties. The targeted properties were mortgaged through the Brookhaven office of USDA Rural Development.

The agency helps rural residents buy or rent safe, affordable housing, especially low and very-low income individuals.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

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 created fraudulent warranty deeds designed to convey ownership of those properties to co-conspirators and others.

The fraudulent deeds included forged signatures from former homeowners, including at least one deceased person. The deeds were then 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.

Martin 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 Sept. 19, 2023 and faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and 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 Kaigler entered guilty pleas last year and are scheduled to be sentenced on June 15, 2023.

The son of Ella Martin, Georgia resident Barry Martin, 47, pleaded guilty in November 2022 to a violation of the same law as Ella Martin. Kaigler also pleaded guilty to the same violation. Each defendant faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

Kaigler and the younger Martin previously operated a Tylertown restaurant together, Velma Jean’s Chicken and Waffles.

The USDA OIG and the Federal Bureau of Investigation investigated the case.