Franklin B. Trell for years connived and cheated his way through the business world. His schemes involved numerous shell companies he and his partner in crime, Cynthia P. Vinson, created. When former business partners discovered his lies and sued him, Trell had other schemes.
He got investors and banks to give him millions, telling them it was going to legitimate businesses and that Trell was putting up a good share of his own money in them. Then he diverted funds to pay off four lawsuits.
Some of the money also allowed him to live a life of luxury. He bought a 8,000-square-foot home on Riverland Court in Atlanta and another home on Lake Lanier, spent some $50,000 on family vacations and more than $80,000 on his daughter's wedding, court documents say.
Finally, federal criminal authorities took an interest, and last week Trell, 71, was sentenced to 5 years in prison and ordered to repay more than $20 million.
Trell's schemes date back about 20 years, prosecutors alleged in court documents.
His first victim was apparently a well-known Atlanta-area real estate developer. After the developer died in 2001, a CPA handling his estate noticed "significant irregularities," a prosecutor's motion says. Trell had forged bank documents to obtain loans on businesses he owned with the developer, failed to pay back the loans and co-mingled corporate assets with his own money. The estate later filed a series of suits against Trell, his wife and Vinson.
By then, Trell had hooked another wealthy investor, pitching him on medical imaging businesses, prosecutors said. Two ventures ended up in bankruptcy, two others never got off the ground. All the while, Trell and Vinson, who was his bookkeeper, stole millions for themselves, prosecutors told the court.
When his biggest investor got suspicious, Trell doctored accounting records and moved money from one corporate account to another to make it appear he was investing money into the businesses as well, according to the Justice Department.
Trell pleaded guilty last June to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, bank fraud and money laundering. Last month, as he was facing sentencing, his attorney told the court that Trell didn't make large sums from his business projects. "In fact he worked very hard to make them work... Although unquestionably sloppy, he also failed to keep control of 'the books' in these cases."
His attorney goes on to say in a sentencing memorandum that Trell's businesses were hurt by "changes in the law, non-compliant doctors and equipment that did not properly operate." Attorney Robert H. Citronberg asked that the court consider home detention with community service instead of incarceration.
In sentencing him to prison and setting restitution at $20 million, the judge agreed with prosecutors' arguments.
Instead, they'll be like countless other victims of federal crimes, waiting for money that will likely never come. At the end of 2016, federal defendants had yet to pay $110 billion in previously ordered restitution, according to a recent study by the Government Accountability Office. U.S. Attorney Office's identified $100 billion of that as uncollectible due to offenders' inability to pay, the GAO report says.
Vinson, of Gay, Georgia, also pleaded guilty in the case. She is scheduled to be sentenced on March 7.