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Former attorney sentenced in Ponzi scheme

By Linda Looney-Bond

lbond@news-daily.com

A former McDonough attorney was sentenced, Thursday, to more than five years in federal prison after pleading guilty to a wire-fraud charge involving a real-estate scam that defrauded investors in three states and nine Georgia cities, including Jonesboro, prosecutors said.

Steven H. Ballard, 53, was sentenced to five years and three months in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release, according to a statement released by Patrick Crosby, public affairs officer for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Georgia. Ballard was also ordered to pay approximately $1.13 million in restitution to victims of the scheme, according to Crosby.

There is no parole in the federal system, Crosby said in the statement. Ballard pleaded guilty to the wire-fraud charge on July 9.

"I am gratified that the U.S. Attorney's Office was able to present the losses of so many victims to the court, and thereby obtain justice for those who relied on this former attorney and his 'legal' papers," Clayton County District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson said in the statement.

"In Clayton County alone, our victims lost over $200,000, but there were more victims spread well beyond our county limits which were included in this federal prosecution," she said.

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 Crosby. Ballard defrauded investors in Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee, Crosby said.

In Georgia alone, Ballard solicited funds from victims in Jonesboro, Duluth, Dunwoody, Fayetteville, Jackson, Newnan, Palmetto, Peachtree City, and Whitesburg, according to the statement.

"Ballard falsely promised lucrative real estate and other investments which never took place, often preparing HUD-1 settlement statements, warranty deeds, and sales contracts to reflect non-existent property purchases while using a portion of the scheme proceeds to repay former victim-investors and clients whose cases had been mishandled," Crosby said.

He said Ballard made reimbursements to victims only if they detected the scheme.

In July, former Clayton County Chief Staff Attorney Don Comer said 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."

Ballard could have received 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.

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.