VALPARAISO | A Hammond woman and a Lafayette man accused of unlawfully collecting $1.3 million in real estate investments and dipping into the funds for personal purchases were awarded public defenders Friday after claiming they could not afford attorneys.
Gary Atkinson, 58, told Porter Superior Court Judge Roger Bradford that after his original attorney withdrew from the case, he inquired with others, but their fees were too high for him to afford.
He said he owns no real estate or vehicle, has less than $1,000 in the bank and works part time.
Donna Harris, 60, and also known as Donna Meade, told the judge she is self-employed.
Bradford told both of the accused it is their responsibility to contact the public defender's office and return to court March 1 for another status hearing.
Harris and Atkinson are accused of carrying out the venture from March 2007 to October 2011 under the business name of Dunes Country Mortgage Partners, Porter County court documents show.
The two are accused of selling unregistered promissory notes for a real estate development in Porter County to investors from communities including Valparaiso, Munster, Kouts and Merrillville.
The investors received notes from a bank stating that money existed in their accounts, which wasn't the case, the allegations state.
Harris pleaded not guilty to a felony count of securities fraud and eight other related felony charges.
Atkinson also pleaded not guilty.