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Former Title Office Manager Charged in $1.6M Scheme

April 6, 2010

The former office manager of a new defunct title agency in Indiana was charged last week in U.S. District Court with three federal crimes for allegedly stealing $1.6 million from the company.

John Keith Branam was charged with one count each of bank fraud, money laundering and filing false individual income tax returns, following an investigation by the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Division and the Shelbyville Police Department.

Branam was the office manager of King’s Title & Abstract Company in Shelbyville, Ind., from 1996 until 2007, when he was terminated by the company. Branam was responsible for all operations of the Shelbyville branch of King’s Title, though he had no ownership interest. The alleged theft eventually led to the closure of King’s Title, as the Indiana Department issued a cease and desist order against the agency after the company’s underwriter cancelled its agency agreement in 2007.

Around 2004, Branam allegedly began embezzling money from King’s Title. Branam accomplished his embezzlement by using several fictitious business entities, including Branam Properties, Rocksolid Investments, and King’s. Branam opened bank accounts for each of these businesses in his own name, d/b/a the entity’s business name. None of these entities were legitimate businesses; they were created by Branam solely for the purpose of embezzling money from King’s Title.

Branam originally had signatory authority over the King’s Title escrow account at J.P. Morgan Chase Bank. During that time, Branam either wrote King’s Title checks to his fictitious entity Branam Properties, or used King’s Title checks to purchase cashiers checks or official checks payable to Branam Properties. Branam then deposited those checks to his Branam Properties bank account and used the money for personal expenses. In early 2005, Branam was removed as a signatory on the King’s Title bank account. Branam then continued to embezzle money from the company by getting an office employee (who had signature authority) to provide him blank signed checks. He represented to that employee (who knew nothing about the embezzlement) that he needed the checks to pay title company expenses and conduct title company business.

Branam wrote, or caused to be written, King’s Title checks issued to one of his fictitious business entities. Branam then deposited the check to the fictitious business entity bank account and used the money for personal expenses. Branam also wrote, or caused to be written, King’s Title checks issued to various banks, then converted those checks to cashiers checks or official checks payable to one of his fictitious entities, then deposited those official checks to his fictitious entity bank account and used the money for personal expenses.

According to Assistant U. S. Attorney Susan Heckard Dowd, who is prosecuting the case, Branam faces a maximum possible prison sentence of 43 years and a maximum possible fine of $1.5 million. An initial hearing will be scheduled before a U.S. Magistrate Judge in Indianapolis.

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