Atlantan charged with bank fraud says he was innocent fall guy

Atlantan charged with bank fraud says he was innocent fall guy

June 29th, 2011 by Carey O'Neil in Local - Breaking News

An Atlanta man charged with five counts of bank fraud told jurors he was the innocent fall guy in a counterfeiting ring run by what he called "modern-day geniuses."

Herschel Hargett is accused of recruiting homeless people in Atlanta and bringing them to Tennessee to cash fake checks at Regions Bank on Gunbarrel Road and at GreenBank in Athens, Tenn.

Hargett took the stand in U.S. District Court in Chattanooga for about an hour this morning, telling jurors the scheme was "the perfect crime" because the ring's leaders "got the money and they're already spending it while the homeless guys and I are in here pointing fingers at each other, fighting for our lives in the court room."

Several admitted crack cocaine users who served time in relation to the check cashing ring testified Tuesday that Hargett - know to them by the street name "Dred" for his dreadlocked hair - recruited them specifically for the scheme and took them to a hotel where they were given drugs, food and alcohol. The homeless men were then driven to the Tennessee area where they tried to cash fake payroll checks.

All the men received reduced sentence recommendations from Assistant U.S. Attorney James Brooks for their testimony.

But Hargett said he never recruited the men and only pointed out homeless shelters to a man who presented himself as a business man from Ohio. The man, known to Hargett only as Josh, paid Hargett for help finding day laborers and connecting the homeless workers with Josh, Hargett testified.

The jury will hear closing arguments and is expected to deliver a verdict this afternoon.