Arrest Pulls Star Businessman Back To Where It All Began

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Former high-priced Northwest Arkansas developer Brandon Barber was arrested Wednesday in connection with a years-long investigation by federal agencies into massive fraud allegations, but Barber was once a major rising star in the area.

When U.S. Attorney Conner Eldridge’s office announced Wednesday the 27 counts of various fraud and money laundering charges Barber would be facing, it was the latest development in Barber’s saga that may ultimately land him behind bars for the rest of his life.

A Grand Jury in Fort Smith handed down federal indictments to Barber, his lawyer K. Vaughn Knight of Fayetteville and three other men prosecutors say were involved in a massive scheme to defraud creditors out of millions of dollars. Prosecutors, the FBI and the IRS allege that Barber declared bankruptcy in 2009 after racking up $200 million in loans, then hid assets from the courts and creditors during the bankruptcy process.

Barber was set to remain in a Manhattan jail Wednesday. His attorney Knight seemed to carry out business as usual at his Fayetteville law office, but did not return calls Wednesday from 5NEWS. The location and status of the other three men in the case---James Van Doren of New York, Jeff Whorton of Johnson and Brandon Rains of Springdale---is uncertain at this point.

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 remain unresolved, according to Washington County Circuit Court records.

Attorney Bill Clark represents Arvest Bank, which entered in a lawsuit against Barber in 2008. Clark told 5NEWS on Wednesday that he was unaware of Barber’s arrest and did not know how that would affect Arvest’s ongoing case.

In debt and collecting lawsuits, Barber filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2009, but is 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.

Barber’s co-defendants in the federal fraud case are scheduled to appear in federal court in Fayetteville on April 15. Although the date has yet to be determined, Barber will also appear in court in Arkansas, set to come back to the state where his star status rose and where his troubles began.

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