Couple accused of scheming area investors admit guilt

By Lindsey Connell - bio | email | Twitter

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - Just as their trial was about to begin Wednesday, a local couple admitted to scheming investors out of millions.

In a last minute plea deal, Michael and Phyllis Bleckley pled guilty to racketeering charges, opting not to let their case be heard by a jury.

Prosecutors say the victims in this case, members of the Kim family, who own Mikata Japanese Steakhouse off Airport Thruway are out $3.5 million

In court, they faced the couple who took their hard-earned money and asked why and how could they do this to people who trusted them.

Chief Assistant District Attorney Alonza Whitaker says it was the unconditional trust the Kim family had in their friends, Michael and Phyllis Bleckley, that allowed the Bleckleys to fool them for 7.5 years, pretending they were investing millions when they were really using the money to buy properties across the Chattahoochee Valley.

Whitaker says the properties the Bleckleys bought span Marion, Webster, Stewart and Meriwether County and include a pecan farm, funeral homes, custom car business and the popular Bulloch House Restaurant in Warm Springs.

He says the Bleckleys approached the Kims in 2000, acting as brokers and started a Ponzi scheme- an investment operation where returns are paid to investors from other investors money.

"In a sense, we think it was some form of money laundering. You get illegal funds and then you go and make a legitimate purchase using a portion of that money so it was very complicated," he explained in an interview with WTVM.

The Bleckley's attorney, Frank Martin, says the Kims took their chances with investments, where there are no guarantees.

"A Ponzi scheme is a scheme where a person gives money to another person, they lose their money and the other person enriches themselves, they're better off for the transaction. Mister Bleckley and his wife lost everything they own in this," Martin said.

Muscogee County Superior Court Judge Gil McBride said, "The fact that a crime was committed by someone wearing a business suit does not make that crime any less of an offense than a crime committed by a youthful offender, someone who steals cars or someone who breaks into houses. In my book, and more importantly under the law, a thief is a thief."

He sentenced Michael Bleckley to 25 years, 10 of which he'll serve behind bars.

Phyllis Bleckley was sentenced to 10 years, one of which she'll spend in a work detention center.

"In these times, this type of scheme is one that's running rampant and we just need to be diligent in our efforts to invest and in who we trust," Whitaker warned.

All of the Bleckley's assets have been frozen by the court and another hearing will be held in November on how they will pay the money back.

Meanwhile, prosecutors say their properties are in bankruptcy.

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