VALPARAISO | A Hammond woman and a Lafayette man are accused of unlawfully collecting $1.3 million in real estate investments and dipping into the funds to buy a vehicle, pay salaries and spend money on other personal needs.
Donna Harris, 59 and also known as Donna Meade, and Gary Atkinson, 57, are accused of carrying out the venture from March 2007 to this past October under the business name of Dunes Country Mortgage Partners, Porter County court documents show.
Harris pleaded not guilty to a felony count of securities fraud and eight other related felony charges during an initial appearance Friday in Porter Superior Court.
Atkinson, who already made his initial appearance and pleaded not guilty, also was in court.
Porter Superior Court Judge Bill Alexa, who said he knew the defendants, recused himself from the cases and said they would be assigned to another courtroom.
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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.
They carried on despite signing an agreement March 7, 2007, with the Indiana Secretary of State's Securities Division in which they admitted to selling securities that were not registered, court documents state. They reportedly agreed to a permanent bar from the investment adviser and securities industry.
The pair reportedly promised investors 10 percent or more annual return on their money.
"Atkinson and Harris continued to send letters updating victims on the progress of their investments and encouraging them to invest more," court documents state.
The investors also received notes from a bank updating them on their investments and stating that money existed in their accounts, which wasn't the case, the allegations state. Atkinson and Harris are accused of providing the information for the updates.
The investors reportedly were unable to obtain money from their accounts.