Crime

Georgia’s elderly landowners among those defrauded in alleged timber scheme, Macon DA says

A Georgia field where timber was harvested in June 2018.
A Georgia field where timber was harvested in June 2018. Georgia Forestry Commission

Assets of a Middle Georgia timber company were seized Tuesday and its owner was arrested after agents with the Georgia Forestry Commission began a criminal investigation into an alleged scheme that victimized at least 28 landowners, most of them elderly.

Cox Land & Timber Inc., based in Pike County, is accused of a number of “schemes,” including “intentionally misrepresenting the value of the timber harvested and harvested more timber than represented to the victims,” according to a civil lawsuit filed Tuesday in Bibb County Superior Court.

John Barnhart Cox, owner of the company, was charged with felony theft and 49-year-old Jack David Uselton Jr., of McDonough, was charged with misrepresenting the origin or ownership of timber greater than $500. Both men were booked in the Bibb County jail Tuesday and released Wednesday on a $17,000 bond and a $4,050 bond respectively.

Racketeering, exploitation of elderly people and timber mill theft are among the allegations in the lawsuit, which named four other defendants, including Jonathon Ashley May, of Griffin, James Lafayette Weldon, of Evans, Brenda Owings Jones, of Zebulon, and Kelly Zimmerman, of Kennesaw.

The 28 victims are from 16 different counties including Bibb, Baldwin, Dodge, Fayette, Green, Hancock, Henry, Jasper, Lamar, Meriwether, Monroe, Newton, Pike, Spaulding, Talbot and Taliaferro, Macon Judicial Circuit District Attorney David Cooke said at a news conference Wednesday.

At least 17 victims are over the age of 65.

“Our hope is a majority of the victims in this case can receive restitution and recoup the losses they suffered,” Cooke said. “At least one victim has already died. … Another victim is 95.”

The timber company is accused of quoting an elderly man $15,000-$30,000 for the harvest of his timber then paying him only $6,686, according to the lawsuit. It also is accused of harvesting about 655 tons more timber than it declared to another victim on a settlement sheet.

In another accusation, the company allegedly lied to a victim and telling him or her that the property had “extensive beetle damage, which prevented harvesting the amount of timber as quoted,” according to the lawsuit.

In addition to landowners, the company is accused of duping a number of timber mills including Graphic Packaging International in Macon.

The lawsuit alleges Cox’s company “misrepresented the ownership or origin of the timber to the mill owners” to get paid more.

All the businesses’ assets and properties are under the control of receiver John F. Kennedy while the case is pending.

Cooke said Kennedy and a judge will decide if the business will continue to operate.

Reached by phone Wednesday, Cox told The Telegraph, “I just don’t understand it.”

Brian Jarrard, the Macon lawyer representing Cox, said he thinks it is improper for the district attorney’s office “to seize a business’s assets before any testing of their allegations in front of a jury. ... We intent to vigorously defend Mr. Cox and his business.”

COX JOHN BARNHARDT.jpg
John Barnhardt Cox and Jack David Uselton

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