Former President and Controller of Southern Pine Credit Union Plead Guilty to Multimillion-Dollar Bank Fraud and Identity Theft Schemes

In a significant development, Teresa Paulo and Leah Lehman, the former President and Controller of Southern Pine Credit Union (SPCU) in Valdosta, have pleaded guilty to charges related to long-running multimillion-dollar bank loan and aggravated identity theft schemes.

Teresa Paulo, a resident of Valdosta, entered a guilty plea today for one count of bank fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft. Leah Lehman, also from Valdosta, had previously pleaded guilty on October 26 to the same charges. Both women face a maximum of 30 years in prison for bank fraud, with a mandatory two-year sentence for aggravated identity theft, in addition to any other prison term imposed. This will be followed by a maximum of five years of supervised release and a $1,000,000 fine.

U.S. District Judge W. Louis Sands is overseeing the case, with Lehman’s sentencing scheduled for February 28, 2024. Paulo’s sentencing date will be determined by the Court, and neither defendant is eligible for parole.

The charges stem from a thorough investigation by the FBI and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), exposing complex schemes that put the members of the credit union, mainly local paper mill employees and their families, at significant risk.

Lehman, who served as SPCU’s President from 1990 to 2020, initiated her fraudulent activities in June 2003, creating share secured loans in members’ names without their knowledge. This continued until May 31, 2020, involving multiple loans and advances for personal spending, including a boat, hunting club share, personal expenses, and gifts to family members. Lehman utilized false credit transactions and manipulated due dates to conceal her actions, resulting in a total of $4,112,870.63 in drafted funds by May 31, 2020.

Paulo, the former Controller of SPCU from October 2011 to June 2020, engaged in a similar fraudulent scheme. Starting in October 2011, she created share secured loans in members’ names without their knowledge, taking out additional advances and loans for personal spending. Paulo employed tactics similar to Lehman’s, with false credit transactions and manipulated due dates, resulting in $1,233,201.77 in drafted funds by May 31, 2020.

U.S. Attorney Peter D. Leary expressed gratitude to the FBI and FDIC investigators for uncovering the meticulously engineered criminal fraud, emphasizing the defendants’ accountability. Rich Bilson, Senior Supervisory Resident Agent of FBI Atlanta’s Valdosta office, highlighted the damage caused by their greed-driven scheme, which stole hundreds of thousands of dollars and compromised the financial security of innocent victims.

The case underscores the importance of vigilance and regulatory oversight in financial institutions to prevent such abuses of power.