Valdosta Daily Times

Local News

January 21, 2014

Business owner pleads guilty

Owner of former Lake Park firm faces sentencing on fraud charges

VALDOSTA — The owner of a former Lake Park-based child support collection business has pleaded guilty in federal court to fraud charges, according to the U.S. Attorney Middle District of Georgia’s office.

Stuart C. Cole, 59, of St. Petersburg, Fla., pleaded guilty last week to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering, according to court records.

Senior U.S. District Court Judge Hugh Lawson has scheduled sentencing for April 28 in Valdosta federal court. Cole faces a maximum sentence of up to 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000 on the first count, and up to 20 years in prison, a half-million-dollar fine, or twice the value of the property involved in the transaction, or whichever sum is greater, on the second count, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office. “Mr. Cole also agreed to forfeit all assets obtained directly or indirectly through his criminal activity.”

During his plea, Cole admitted he and others conspired from September 2007 through August 2009 to operate a fraudulent child support collection office in Lake Park and other locations.

“Mr. Cole and his associates defrauded custodial parents who were to receive child support payments by inducing them to sign collection agreements with his company and offering to assist them in collecting child support payments from non-custodial parents, claiming that all fees connected with the collections would be the responsibility of the non-custodial parent,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Through “fraud, deception and coercion,” they forced non-custodial parents and their employers to send child-support payments to Cole’s business, but court records note that only a portion of the collected money went to the custodial parents for the children. Instead, Cole admitted in his federal plea that the money his business retained went to him and his associates to lease houses, cars and boats.

“The conspiracy collected more than $2.3 million and retained approximately $1.2 million,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s office. “Additionally, Mr. Cole admitted to laundering the collected funds through bank accounts including an account for a corporation, purported to be a church, as ‘love gifts.’”

Federal indictments handed down in June 2013 implicated Child Support Services of Atlanta, Inc., Child Support Services, Inc., McCoy & Associates, Inc., and Faith Landings Christian Center, according to federal court records.

The federal indictment alleged that the defendants were engaged in a business that collected child-support payments from both non-custodial parents under court order to pay child support as well as non-custodial parents who weren’t court ordered to pay. The defendants allegedly used various methods to identify both custodial and non-custodial parents through public records, search engines and telephone directories, according to the indictment.

“Mr. Cole took advantage of victims who needed help the most,” said U.S. Attorney Michael Moore in a statement. “These were parents trying to raise children on their own and having to do it without the financial support these children were due from parents who were not living up to their financial obligations. On the one hand, Mr. Cole offered hope to the custodial parents, and then with the other hand, he snatched the money that they were counting on supporting their children away from them.”

The Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigations, U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Georgia Governor’s Office of Consumer Protection investigated this case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert D. McCullers is prosecuting this case.

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