CHATTOOGA COUNTY, Ga. — Neighbors in north Georgia are frustrated after they say they’re out thousands of dollars for a community living project that turned out to be bogus.
Chattooga County Sheriff Mark Schrader has launched a criminal investigation after an Atlanta-based developer is being accused of selling fake deeds on land she didn’t own.
“I paid $22,500 for allegedly five acres,” investor Jacobi Thornton told Channel 2′s Justin Carter.
“My total investment was $7,500 for an acre of land,” said investor Bonnie Hunt.
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Several investors of the Lakes of Summerville project have come forward claiming the dream plan they invested in was a ripoff.
The Lakes of Summerville project was supposed to be a community project where you buy land with hopes to build on it. It was advertised as land where people could purchase and build energy efficient homes, vacation homes, bike trails and fishing ponds.
Hunt says she even received a deed for her land.
“She finally gave us a deed in March 2022,” Hunt says. “We found out we couldn’t file those deeds because she didn’t own the land. That’s whe That’s when all hell broke loose.”
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Marlena Barnett, CEO of Lakes of Summerville, told Channel 2 Action News she did receive about $150,000 from people wanting to invest into the project.
She also claims that she originally had an agreement from two of the property owners to purchase the land over time, but they pulled out of the deal.
“Unfortunately, we just never raised enough money,” Barnett said. “We were told that we could subdivide the property. We were told that it was ours.”
Sheriff Schrader says he launched an investigation after a number of people filed complaints against Lakes of Summerville.
“The person selling the property didn’t have the authority to sell the property,” Sheriff Schrader said. “We found that some people have received deeds, but they are fictitious deeds.”
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Barnett says she has offered to pay people back on a payment plan. She says many of her former investors have declined and want the full amount.
“We’re working on it,” Barnett said. “The individuals that were willing to accept payment plans, they started receiving payments immediately.”
Barnett has not been charged with a crime but the Chattooga County sheriff’s office says they plan to bring her in for questioning at a later date.
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