CULLMAN, ALA ? The man behind a promise of up to 500 jobs announced in 2010 that never materialized in Century ? has pleaded guilty to financial? fraud charges brought against him by Alabama? authorities.
James Leonard Craft, age 72 of Century, pleaded guilty to engaging in a scheme or artifice to defraud in connection with the sale of securities. He faces from one to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $370,000.
An investigation by the Alabama Securities Commission found that Craft solicited funds from investors to purportedly purchase wood products from South America, which were to be resold to U.S. distributors for the making of railroad cross ties and other products at a plant to be located in the former Alger Sullivan Lumber Company building in Century.
Craft was the manager of Century Lumber and Land, a company that held a ribbon cutting back in October 2010 for a group of new businesses that planned to locate in Century?s vacant Alger Sullivan Lumber Company property and bring up to 500 jobs to the struggling town. According to Workforce Escarosa, over 3,000 people applied for those jobs.
Craft stood holding the arm of Century Mayor Freddie McCall in October 2010 as the mayor cut a symbolic ribbon for Century Lumber and Land. Community members, Century town council members, county commissioners, and other county government representatives and business officials stood behind a Century Area Chamber of Commerce sign as the yellow ribbon fell.
But there was a tidbit very few of them knew ? Craft or the company never had any legal claim the property where he was holding the ribbon cutting.
?It was never sold; it never even had a binder,?? EXIT Realty NFI-Commerical agent Gary Watson said last year on behalf of the property owners.
In 2010, the Alabama Securities Commission issued a cease and desist order on Craft and his Century Lumber and Land after an attempt was made to solicit money from Alabama investors in at least three Alabama counties. The ASC said neither Craft or his business was registered to sell securities in Alabama as required by law.
In testimony in Cullman County (Ala.) Circuit Court, Craft readily admitted to Judge Gregory Nicholas that he intended on using the money for personal reasons while simultaneously making a fraudulent pitch that the investors? funds were to be used to purchase wood products.
In September 2011, Craft was arrested by the Santa Rosa County Sheriff?s Office and extradited to Etowah County, Ala., face charges. Craft?s arrest stemmed from a Etowah County Grand jury indictment for alleged illegal securities activities associated with his company. Indictments against Craft were also returned in Cullman and Shelby counties. All of the charges were later combined and tried in Cullman County Circuit Court.
?I hope the conviction of Mr. Craft sends a clear message to other fraudsters out there that the State of Alabama will not tolerate criminals preying on the citizens of Alabama,? said Greg Biggs, who prosecuted the case for the Alabama Securities Commission.
Craft remains free on bond while a pre-sentencing investigation is completed to determine Craft?s ultimate sentence and ability to pay $185,000 in restitution to his victims.
Pictured top: Convicted felon James Leonard Craft (light blue shirt, front left) holds the arm of Century Mayor Freddie McCall as he cuts the ribbon for Century Lumber and Land in October 2010. Pictured below: A group hoping to apply for a job gathered during the ribbon cutting. Pictured inset: The former Alger Sullivan Lumber Company building in Century was the planned home for Craft?s company. NorthEscambia.com file photos, click to enlarge.