Fake developer scammed Florida county of $1.4M. Here’s how a judge sentenced him. (2024)

A man who scammed Manatee County out of $1.4 million by impersonating a local developer has been ordered to pay back the money, according to court records.

Timothy Ledford, 27, pleaded no contest in May to charges of fraud, money laundering and conspiracy after prosecutors say he and two co-conspirators stole over $1 million from the Manatee County Clerk of Court by pretending to be Lakewood Ranch-based developer Neal Land and Neighborhoods.

Circuit Judge Matt Whyte sentenced Ledford to 11 months and 29 days in jail and 25 years probation, court records show. Whyte also ordered Ledford to pay the Manatee County Clerk of Court $1,370,631 in restitution.

Restitution payments are set to begin within 60 days of probation and are to be paid in installments of $1,400 on the first day of each month, according to court documents.

Ledford, who has already spent around 11 months in jail, will receive credit for time served.

Prosecutors say Ledford is one of three men facing fraud charges in the million-dollar scheme.

The cases against Ledford’s alleged co-conspirators, Ezekiel Deshaun Chester and Ibrahima Biteye, are still open and pending, according to prosecutors.

Chester is due to appear in court on July 31 for a hearing.

Biteye, meanwhile, was arrested in connection with another fraud scheme in 2020, when he was caught allegedly stealing checks out of a mailbox in Georgia, according to a Fox 5 Atlanta news report.

About the fraud case

Assistant State Attorney Justin Foster, the lead prosecutor in the case against the three men, told the Bradenton Herald on Tuesday that as part of his plea, Ledford “agreed to testify truthfully and consistently with his prior statements to law enforcement” in any trial involving Chester or Biteye.

Ledford and Chester’s attorneys did not immediately respond to the Bradenton Herald for comment.

Jennifer Linzy, a spokesperson with the Clerk of Court, said the office has recovered nearly $510,000 and expects to make a “full recovery” of the $1.4 million.

In July 2023, Manatee County Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller Angel Colonneso thanked the sheriff’s office for a “swift investigation” and provided the following statement to the Bradenton Herald:

“Fraud cannot always be prevented, and we will be working with the sheriff’s office to learn additional details on how this cybercrime was carried out to work with the county to further enhance our existing controls, as all protocols were followed in the transfer,” Colonneso wrote in an email.

Ledford and Chester, who both live in Georgia, were brought back to Manatee County to face charges.

“Highly sophisticated fraud”

The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office arrested Ledford in June 2023 after an investigation revealed what Colonneso previously described as “a highly sophisticated fraud.”

Fake developer scammed Florida county of $1.4M. Here’s how a judge sentenced him. (1)

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Ledford told detectives during an interview that the scam began after Chester approached him with an idea for a money-making scheme.

According to an arrest report, Ledford then provided Chester with account information and once the fraudulent wire transfers were completed, the two went to different bank branches together, where they made withdrawals in the form of cashier’s checks.

During the scam, detectives say Ledford impersonated a representative with Neal Land and Neighborhoods asking to be paid for work on an extension to Fort Hamer Road in Parrish.

The only problem? Neal never demanded payment from the county, the company’s president previously told the Bradenton Herald.

In March 2023, the Manatee County Clerk’s Office sent an email to legitimate Neal Land representatives specifying the amount Manatee County would pay for the services.

That’s when detectives say an unknown third party, now believed to be Ledford, began responding to the clerk’s office as the Neal representatives. In doing so, detectives say Ledford requested that the clerk’s office switch the payment from an in-person check to a wire transfer instead.

Georgia man posed as local developer, deputies say

Ledford sent fraudulent documents on Neal Land letterheads requesting the change, in addition to a fraudulent W-9 tax form and a standby letter of credit and a letter of account verification, deputies say.

A little more than a week later, investigators say the clerk’s office sent a wire transfer of $221,165 to a bank account belonging to Ledford.

The account had a balance of $3.17 before the wire transfer, according to an arrest report.

A few days later, another wire transfer was made to one of Ledford’s accounts for the next scheduled payment to what was supposed to be Neal Land and Neighborhoods in the amount of $1,149,466, court documents show.

Monthly account statements showed Ledford spending large amounts of money on daily purchases while transferring significant amounts of money to another bank account, but the arrest report did not detail the purchases he allegedly made.

Bank of America shared photo surveillance of Ledford making multiple withdrawals, the Bradenton Herald previously reported.

Later, when Neal asked the county when Neal Land and Neighborhoods should expect to receive payment, the county said they had already wired the funds, prompting the sheriff’s office’s investigation.

©2024 The Bradenton Herald. Visit bradenton.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency LLC.

Fake developer scammed Florida county of $1.4M. Here’s how a judge sentenced him. (2024)
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