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Speight pleads guilty to defrauding USDA

Speight pleads guilty to defrauding USDA
A former Dresden attorney pleaded guilty in a Mississippi courtroom on Thursday in connection with a joint biodiesel venture that eventually went bankrupt in that state. H. Max Speight of Dresden issued a guilty plea to a more than $3-million biodiesel fraud of the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Thursday, according to news reports. Speight was indicted in Mississippi in March 2009, while serving an eight-year sentence in prison for allegedly bilking more than $1 million from local clients while he practiced real estate law in Weakley County. In January 2008, Speight pleaded guilty in Weakley County to five counts of theft of property over $60,000 and three counts of theft over $10,000. The former attorney was arrested in 2006 for the charges when he was accused of taking his clients’ money and placing them into a biodiesel venture in Mississippi without their knowledge or consent. Speight had reportedly paid out $356,000 to the local victims before he was sentenced. During a sentencing hearing in Weakley County Circuit Court in April, 2008, Speight was ordered to serve 30 percent, or two and a half years, of an eight-year sentence for his theft pleas. Since his arrest, the state suspended Speight’s law license for “misappropriated funds to his own use,” according to a release issued by the Supreme Court of Tennessee. The Dresden-native was granted an early parole release as a non-violent offender. Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Mims told the judge during Speight’s hearing last week in Mississippi that a supplemental plea agreement was being filed under seal, which means the public cannot access the details in the pending case, according to the NEMS Daily Journal. According to media reports, Speight was accused of conspiring to gain more than $3 million in subsidy payments from the USDA’s Commodity Credit Corp. for biodiesel fuel he claimed was produced at the now-bankrupt Biodiesel of Mississippi refinery in Nettleton, Miss. If Speight was convicted for all 10 counts of his indictment in Mississippi, he faced 100 years in prison and $2.5 million in fines. By pleading guilty to one count of his indictment last week, his maximum sentence is five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and possible restitution. His alleged partner in the biodiesel refinery venture, William T. “Tommy” Tacker II, will stand trial Feb. 22 in Aberdeen, Miss. for allegedly filing false reports with the USDA. Tacker is free on bond after entering a not guilty plea. The biodiesel venture reportedly went bankrupt in 2006. The crimes allegedly committed against the USDA reportedly occurred 2003-05. Speight’s sentencing will not take place for six to eight weeks while the U.S. Probation Service prepares a recommendation to the U.S. District Court, according to the NEMS Daily Journal. WCP 2.16.10

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