Two men accused of stealing nearly $500,000 in Muscogee County public funds get court-appointed attorneys

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COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — Aug. 24, 2021, Willie Demps and Lamarcus Palmer entered the downtown Columbus Federal Courthouse Tuesday shackled at the wrists and ankles, accused of a conspiracy with six others that allegedly stole $467,331 in public funds.

Both men petitioned Federal Magistrate Stephen Hyles for court-appointed attorneys, saying they could not afford to hire a lawyer. The judge appointed Charles Cox Jr., of Macon to represent Demps at no cost. Barbara Agricola of Opelika, Ala., was appointed to represent Palmer.

Cox found out Tuesday morning he was representing Demps, who previously had hired Columbus defense attorney Stacey Jackson. Because of a conflict of interest, Jackson withdrew from the case.

Because Cox and Agricola were coming into the case with little notice, Hyles postponed the scheduled hearings until Wednesday at 10 a.m. At that time he will consider a bond for Demps. Prosecutors have asked that Demps be held without bail because he is considered a flight risk. Demps remains in custody, currently at the Lee County Detention Center in Opelika.

Palmer will have his arraignment hearing at the same time where the prosecutors will outline the indictment and case against him. Palmer was released from custody on a $10,000 bond and was ordered to be back in court on Wednesday.

Demps had worked for the State Court’s Clerk’s Office for close to 30 years as both the assistant chief deputy clerk and finance director. He was indicted as the lead co-conspirator of a scheme that stole nearly half a million dollars of public funds money from fines collected for felony and misdemeanor criminal offenses, forfeitures resulting from criminal activities, and certain monies received from condemnation accounts.

All eight co-defendants were charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud. Four were charged with varying counts of interstate transportation of stolen property. Five defendants were charged with wire fraud. Only one was charged on a false statement charge.

Demps, 63, of Phenix City, is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, 35 counts of wire fraud, and 34 counts of interstate transportation of stolen property. If convicted, Demps will face the following:

  • up to a maximum sentence of 30 years on the conspiracy charge
  • maximum sentence of 20 years on each of the wire fraud charges
  • maximum sentence of ten years on each of the interstate transportation charges
  • each count of conviction also carries a maximum of three years of supervised release
  • maximum $250,000 fine

Co-conspirators Palmer, Curtis Porch, Terry McBride, and Samuel Cole could all be facing the same penalties listed above as Demps if charged.

Palmer, 34, of Smiths Station, Ala., is charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud.

Curtis Porch, 48, of Columbus, was previously charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud, wire fraud, and interstate transportation of stolen property.

McBride, 43, of Smiths Station, is charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud, 31 counts of wire fraud and 31 counts of transportation of stolen property.

Cole, 72, of Columbus, is charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud, two counts of wire fraud, two counts of transportation of stolen property, and false statements. 

The remaining co-defendants, Dereen Porch, Rosalee Bassi, and Georgia Cook, were only charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud and could all face the following charges:

  • maximum a sentence of 30 years in prison
  • three years of supervised release
  • maximum fine of $250,000

Dereen Porch, 43, of Columbus, and Cook, 33, of Columbus, were charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud.

Bassi, 65, of Lawrenceville, Ga., is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud. 

FBI, IRS and the Columbus Police Department are investigating the case and Assistant U.S. Attorney Mel Hyde is prosecuting the case.

To follow this case, read the previous digital publications listed below:

August 18, 2021: Exclusive: Former Muscogee County Superior Court employee, and others under federal indictment accused of stealing public funds

August 19, 2021: Willie Demps appears in federal court to face charges that he stole nearly $500,000 in Muscogee County court funds

Additional digital publications listed below:

August 25, 2021: Court testimony: Former Muscogee County deputy clerk was wiring large sums of money to Africa

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