Assets of a Middle Georgia timber company were seized Tuesday and its owner was arrested after agents with the Georgia Forestry Commission began a criminal investigation into an alleged scheme that victimized at least 28 landowners, most of them elderly.
Cox Land & Timber Inc., based in Pike County, is accused of a number of “schemes,” including “intentionally misrepresenting the value of the timber harvested and harvested more timber than represented to the victims,” according to a civil lawsuit filed Tuesday in Bibb County Superior Court.
John Barnhart Cox, owner of the company, was charged with felony theft and 49-year-old Jack David Uselton Jr., of McDonough, was charged with misrepresenting the origin or ownership of timber greater than $500. Both men were booked in the Bibb County jail Tuesday and released Wednesday on a $17,000 bond and a $4,050 bond respectively.
Racketeering, exploitation of elderly people and timber mill theft are among the allegations in the lawsuit, which named four other defendants, including Jonathon Ashley May, of Griffin, James Lafayette Weldon, of Evans, Brenda Owings Jones, of Zebulon, and Kelly Zimmerman, of Kennesaw.
The 28 victims are from 16 different counties including Bibb, Baldwin, Dodge, Fayette, Green, Hancock, Henry, Jasper, Lamar, Meriwether, Monroe, Newton, Pike, Spaulding, Talbot and Taliaferro, Macon Judicial Circuit District Attorney David Cooke said at a news conference Wednesday.
At least 17 victims are over the age of 65.
“Our hope is a majority of the victims in this case can receive restitution and recoup the losses they suffered,” Cooke said. “At least one victim has already died. … Another victim is 95.”
The timber company is accused of quoting an elderly man $15,000-$30,000 for the harvest of his timber then paying him only $6,686, according to the lawsuit. It also is accused of harvesting about 655 tons more timber than it declared to another victim on a settlement sheet.