Another Brandon Barber Co-Defendant Pleads Guilty
Former local developer Brandon Barber’s project manager faces the possibility of five years in prison time and a $250,000 fine after pleading guilty in a federal fraud case.
Brandon Rains pleaded guilty Thursday to one count of making false statements to federal authorities. In exchange for the guilty plea, prosecutors agreed to drop the other charges against Rains, including one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and one count of money laundering, according to federal court documents.
By reaching a deal, Rains avoids his previous possible maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and $1 million in fines. Instead, he could face five years in prison and a quarter-million-dollar fine, according to court records. No sentencing date has been scheduled for Rains.
Rains was a project manager for the Barber-managed Barber Group. In 2007, Rains was named one of the 40 most intriguing business and political leaders under 40 years old in the Northwest Arkansas Journal.
When questioned by the FBI in 2011, Rains initially denied pocketing a kickback in a $100,000 real estate scheme in Springdale in 2008. The suspect’s guilty plea admits he knew he was lying to federal investigators.
Barber, 37, was arrested in March in connection with a years-long investigation by federal agencies into fraud and money laundering allegations, whose potential maximum prison times for the 27 fraud counts could have put Barber behind bars for the rest of his life. Prosecutors, the FBI and the IRS had accused Barber of declaring bankruptcy in 2009 after racking up $200 million in loans, then hid assets from the courts and creditors during the bankruptcy process.
Barber reached a deal with prosecutors in July where he pleaded guilty to three criminal counts, while the other 24 were dismissed, giving Barber a maximum possibility of 45 years behind bars.
Two other men charged in the fraud scheme also pleaded guilty over the last few months. Jeff Whorton, the owner of Whorton Construction in Northwest Arkansas, made several real estate purchases with Barber and faced one count of money laundering and one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud in a case involving engaging in alleged fraudulent transactions against the area’s First Federal Bank.
He pleaded guilty in August to the two counts against him.
James Van Doren was ordered to forfeit $22,000 to the government after he pleaded guilty the same month to one count of money laundering while admitting to helping Barber hide assets while the developer was going through bankruptcy proceedings in 2008, according to federal court documents.
David Fisher, a Rogers lawyer, is one of two co-defendants not to accept a plea deal with prosecutors. His case is set to go to trial on Monday, according to court documents.
Fisher pleaded not guilty in June to aiding Barber in a scheme to collect excess money from fraudulent loans on area properties.
An indictment alleges that Fisher, along with Barber and two other co-defendants, lied to First Federal Bank in order to obtain loans over the actual value of the properties the loans were obtained to purchase. Excess money from the loans was then distributed among the defendants, the indictment claims.
Fisher faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and $1 million in fines if convicted, according to U.S. Attorney Conner Eldridge’s Office.
Fisher had joined fellow Northwest Arkansas lawyer K. Vaughn Knight, whose office is in Fayetteville, as area attorneys indicted and accused of aiding Barber in the multi-million-dollar scheme. Knight is scheduled to participate in a separate trial Nov. 4 concerning the 11 fraud and money laundering counts against him in the Barber case.
Less than a decade ago, Barber, then in his 20s, was one of the most sought-after developers in the Northwest Arkansas. He founded the Barber Group in Springdale and tackled several high-profile area projects such as the Legacy Building and the Bellafont condominiums in Fayetteville. He even proposed the 15-story Divinity Hotel in Fayetteville in 2006.
At the height of his local career, Barber would throw lavish parties at a hangar at the Springdale Municipal Airport, inviting hundreds of guests at a time.
Court records show that as the money flowed, Barber took on massive debt, taking out millions of dollars in loans from local banks. Litigation from the financial institutions ensued, and years later, several court cases by banks and area entities against Barber remained unresolved, according to Washington County Circuit Court records.
In debt and collecting lawsuits, Barber filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2009, but was accused of hiding his assets from creditors. A year later, he was arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated for the second time in recent years, police records show. His development company also filed for bankruptcy, and he moved to New York.