Defendant Funneled Millions in Earnest Money Through Bogus Escrow Account
ATLANTA—Eric Dallas, 41, of Panama City, Florida, was sentenced today by United States District Judge Steve C. Jones to serve five years in federal prison on the charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
“Eric Dallas preyed on small business owners who were trying to secure financing for their businesses. Instead of providing the start-up or investment funds promised, the defendant stole millions of dollars in earnest money. Now he will spend five years in prison,” said United States Attorney Sally Quillian Yates.
Ricky Maxwell, Acting Special Agent in Charge, FBI Atlanta Field Office, stated: “While the FBI often investigates elaborate and varied schemes to defraud, the basic commonality is that of misplaced or abused trust and greed. Mr. Dallas had no regard for his victims as people and saw them as merely an opportunity to enrich his own bank account.”
Dallas was sentenced to five years in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay $3,199,050 in restitution. Dallas was convicted of these charges on July 6, 2012, upon his plea of guilty to a criminal information.
According to United States Attorney Yates, the charges, and other information presented in court: In 2010, two Americans based in Germany, Kenneth Swenson and Heather Cote, used the Internet and telephone to promise prospective small business borrowers and others in the United States that they could assist them in securing financing from wealthy Eastern European investors. Swenson and Cote represented to victims that the investors required payment up front of “100 percent refundable consideration fees,” typically 15 percent of the contractual funding amount, as a form of earnest money. After some victims balked at sending the fees, Cote recruited Dallas to assist in the scheme. Dallas subsequently established Southeastern Escrow Express in Panama City, Florida to facilitate the fraud. Dallas entered into written contracts with would-be borrowers, promising them that their “consideration fees” would be held in escrow until needed at the closing table for the project financing. The promised closings never occurred and millions of dollars in advance fees were never refunded.
Kenneth Swenson, 49, formerly of Atlanta, Georgia, and Heather Cote, 40, of Tustin, California, are charged in a separate federal indictment with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and several counts of wire fraud, among other charges. Swenson is a fugitive.
This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Assistant United States Attorney Brian Pearce prosecuted the case.
For further information please contact the U.S. Attorney’s Public Information Office at USAGAN.PressEmails@usdoj.gov or (404) 581-6016. The Internet address for the HomePage for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia is www.justice.gov/usao/gan.