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Former attorney pleads guilty to Ponzi scheme

By Linda Looney-Bond

lbond@news-daily.com

Former McDonough attorney, Steven Ballard, 53, pleaded guilty in federal district court Thursday to committing a real estate investment scam that defrauded investors in nine Georgia cities, including Jonesboro.

From September 2002, until May 2006, Ballard collected more than $2 million dollars in a real estate scam commonly known as a Ponzi scheme, according to a press statement released by Patrick Crosby, public affairs officer for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Georgia.

Ballard could receive a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, as well as restitution to all victims who have not been repaid to date, according to Crosby.

The former real estate-and-business-law attorney told the victims that he was making lucrative real estate and other investments that were not actually transacted, Crosby said. Ballard used investors' money to repay prior investors and diverted funds for his personal use, according to the statement.

"I am gratified that the U.S. Attorney's Office pulled together the many victims in this fraud case," said Clayton County District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson, in the release.

"In Clayton County alone, our victims lost over $200,000, but there were more victims spread out well beyond our county limits, and now the federal prosecution, and this plea, addresses the justice that these victims deserve," she said.

Ballard pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud, which encompassed the five-and-a-half-year scheme that also defrauded victims in Florida and Tennessee, according to Crosby.

Former Clayton County Chief Staff Attorney Don Comer said Thursday that Ballard, a long-time friend, tricked him out of more than $125,000 in a real estate scam in 2005.

"Needless to say, it's extremely disappointing to have a friend do that," said Comer. "But not only has he ruined his own life, he did this to some people that he took their entire savings and retirement," he said.

Newnan business owner, Lester Spriggle, 52, said he lost more than $130,000 in a real estate scam involving Ballard in 2002.

"He hurt a lot of people, and I hope he gets what he deserves," said Spriggle. "They're talking about restitution, but I don't think any of us will ever see any of that money," said Spriggle.

Ballard is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 29 in U.S. District Court. Ballard's law license was suspended by the State Bar of Georgia in September 2005, and he was disbarred in May 2006, according to the statement from Crosby.