Jayess woman 1 of 3 sentenced for attempting to steal USDA houses

Published 9:11 am Thursday, December 21, 2023

A 69-year-old Jayess woman is one of three people sentenced Wednesday for their roles in a scheme to steal houses from the United States Department of Agriculture.

Ella Martin, a former USDA employee in the Brookhaven office, was sentenced to 35 months in prison. Two Georgia residents — Barry Martin, 47, and Fiesta Kagler, 59 — were each sentenced to 46 months in prison. Five years, or 60 months, is the maximum penalty.

According to court documents, the three conspired to identify and steal USDA-mortgaged properties. Ella Martin pleaded guilty in May 2023 to the scheme. The others entered guilty pleas in 2022.

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Barry Martin, son of Ella, and Kaigler previously operated a Tylertown restaurant together — Velma Jean’s Chicken and Waffles.

The targeted properties were mortgaged through the Brookhaven office of USDA Rural Development, an agency that helps rural residents — especially those with low or very low income — buy or rent safe, affordable housing. As an employee of that office, Ella Martin had access to a list of abandoned, foreclosed, nearly-foreclosed, or similarly distressed USDA-mortgaged properties. She would create fraudulent warrant deeds designed to convey ownership of those properties to her co-conspirators and others.

The fraudulent deeds included forged signatures from former homeowners, including at least one deceased person. Those 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 federal government of the actual value of the properties.

All three defendants will be required to pay restitution, which will be determined at a separate hearing.