Former SunMark Community Bank Loan Officer Pleads Guilty in Asset Misapplication Scheme
MACON, Ga. – A former bank loan officer entered a guilty plea in federal court yesterday in an asset misapplication scheme involving $1.2 million dollars.
Mitchell Fowler, 35, of Hawkinsville, Georgia, pleaded guilty to one count of misapplication by a bank employee and one count of embezzlement by a bank employee before U.S. District Judge Tilman E. “Tripp” Self, III on Nov. 15. Fowler faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and a $1,000,000 fine. Sentencing is scheduled for March 7, 2023.
According to court documents, Fowler was a loan officer at SunMark Community Bank in Bonaire, Georgia, where he handled most of the bank’s construction loans and therefore had the ability to transfer funds between customer accounts. Around Nov. 2019, Fowler began to take funds from customers’ accounts without their authorization and used those funds to pay on and fund loans for other customers. The unauthorized withdrawals and transfers made from these accounts ranged from $1,250 to $100,000 per transaction. None of these withdrawals or transfers were authorized by the customers from whom the funds were taken.
The issue came to SunMark’s attention on Feb. 16, 2021, when a customer called regarding $400,000 that was missing from their account. The bank discovered that Fowler had electronically transferred the money to another customer’s account over the course of a week. As SunMark dug deeper, they discovered Fowler had transferred money out of other accounts without authorization. SunMark calculated the loss to be $1,129,000. SunMark was able to recoup most of the money through their own prevention and mitigation efforts. The remaining $273,173.71 that they were not able to recoup was repaid by Fowler.
“Although all of the embezzled funds were recovered, it does not reduce the fact that this former bank employee was playing Russian roulette with other people’s money, putting their hard-earned savings in jeopardy and a community bank at risk,” said U.S. Attorney Peter D. Leary. “Fraud of any kind is a serious crime that our office will not ignore. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to hold these corporate fraudsters accountable.”
“Banks are institutions that people trust with their life savings, and Fowler tarnished that trust by violating his position and greedily misusing customers money,” said Keri Farley, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta. “Fortunately, an observant customer noticed missing funds and notified the bank, saving further loss to the bank and other customers. Thanks to our partnership with the Perry Police Department, Fowler will pay significantly for his crimes.”
The case was investigated by the Perry Police Department and FBI.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Howard is prosecuting the case for the government.