Sparta business owner pleads guilty in $43-million investment sc - WSMV News 4

Sparta business owner pleads guilty in $43-million investment scheme

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An auction will be held later this month for the seized items. (WSMV) An auction will be held later this month for the seized items. (WSMV)
SPARTA, TN (WSMV) -

Many in a community thought they could trust a familiar face with their life savings. Now, the man has pleaded guilty in federal court in a $43-million investment scheme.

Prosecutors said most of the victims were family members, friends and others from his White County community.

In Sparta, the parking lot is now empty and the signs have been removed from the building that was Gentry Brothers Tractor Supply and Gentry Auto.

"This crime had just a tremendous impact on a small community," said acting U.S. Attorney Jackson Smith. "The financial loss suffered by the investors in this case is staggering."

Smith said an investigation into a Ponzi scheme began at the business in December. He said in 2012, owner Jeffrey Gentry began telling family, friends, co-workers and customers he was bidding and winning contracts in other states for farming equipment. Smith said Gentry convinced more than 50 victims to invest funds totaling more than $43 million. He said it was sometimes life savings.

"Gentry knew there and then there were no state contracts, and no equipment had been or would be purchased with investor funds," Smith said. "He promised people between six and 10 percent of their investment sometimes in a matter of 10 days, sometimes in a matter of two weeks. Many of these investors suffered life-altering financial loss from which they will likely never recover."

Some who brought allegations against Gentry declined to appear on camera but told News 4 they literally watched Gentry grow up, and they trusted a man from a good family. They added they never suspected anything to be wrong with their investments and were blindsided.

"What makes this crime particularly troubling is that it was perpetrated because of the trust these folks had in Mr. Gentry," Smith said.

Smith said Gentry used the funds on land and vehicles that have now been seized. An auction is being held Saturday, Aug. 26 on those seized items.

"They're in a position of frankly not knowing how much of their money we'll be able to get back for them, because we don't know," Smith said.

Smith added they're seeking a substantial prison term.

"If you spent your whole life saving money for your retirement, for your children's education, for your family, they feel exactly as you imagine," he said of the victims.

Smith added, as part of a plea agreement, Gentry's wife will not be charged. He said he feels confidant Gentry was the driving force in the scheme rather than his wife.

Gentry's sentencing is in November.

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