DULUTH -- A disbarred Duluth attorney was arrested Friday morning on charges alleging he stole more than $1.5 million from clients during real estate transactions.
Neal Landers, 45, now faces federal charges of wire fraud, money laundering, bank fraud and making false statements. According to information released Friday by the United States Attorney's Office in Atlanta, Landers was working as a real estate closings attorney when he began misappropriating funds into his own accounts.
Beginning in 2007, Landers is accused of receiving money transfers into his personal escrow account from several real estate closings, money he was supposed to pay out to clients upon the transactions being completed.
"Landers delayed paying out the funds for weeks and sometimes months," according to federal press release. "Rather than promptly disbursing the funds for the recently closed properties, Landers used those funds to pay out the parties from previously completed real estate transactions."
Landers, who was disbarred by the Georgia Supreme Court in 2009, is also accused of transferring funds from his escrow account in order to pay "various personal expenses."
More than $1.5 million is believed to have been involved.
"In real estate closings, lenders trust the attorneys who represent them to fairly and honestly conduct the closings and appropriately handle the funds with which they are entrusted," said U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates. "This defendant is charged with running a Ponzi scheme out of his law firm, often using the proceeds from real estate transactions for his own personal benefit rather than the business purpose for which they were intended."
Charges levied against Landers carry a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $1 million.