Madison County’s Mark Goss was sentenced March 5 in federal court to 12 years in prison for scamming numerous church-going senior citizens out of their life savings.
Goss’ wife Mindy, the mother of his three young children, wept on the back row of the packed courtroom after Judge Ashley Royal imposed a harsher jail term than typically allowed under sentencing guidelines.
Goss pleaded guilty to federal mail fraud for sending investors bogus financial documents through the U.S. Postal Service. The recommended sentencing guidelines for Goss’ crimes were 63 to 78 months incarceration. Royal said he rarely ever strays from the sentencing guidelines, but added that Goss preyed on the elderly and used local churches to facilitate his scam. He said Goss’ crimes warranted a stiffer penalty than the government recommends.
“There was a very elaborate coverup in play and this went on and on and on and many people were taken in,” said Judge Royal. “… I’ve been on the bench 10 years and I’ve never had as many victims as I’ve had today … I don’t remember one (a crime) that targets elderly people like this or in which the scheme or scam was presented in a church.”
Royal read from a number of victims’ statements prior to sentencing Goss, noting that the Madison County resident had even cheated his late mother’s best friend out of money. Goss’ victims included an 86-year-old WWII veteran who lost $280,000, a couple that had saved money to build a handicapped accessible home for their disabled daughters and an elderly woman who lost all of her money to Goss, then put her home into a reverse mortgage arrangement to cover the expenses of her own declining health. Her daughter told the judge that her mother died upset with the knowledge that she had nothing to leave for her children.
Royal said the sentence needed to be an adequate deterrent of such criminal behavior and “needs to reflect the severity of the crime.” He said the proposed sentencing guidelines of 63 to 78 months incarceration for the crime were “insufficient,” adding that he deviates upwards in sentencing “once or twice a year.”
“It’s an unusual step for me,” said Royal, after sentencing Goss to 144 months in prison.
The judge did allow Goss to avoid immediate incarceration and to voluntarily turn himself in to authorities. Goss’ attorney asked that the judge seek to have his client incarcerated in Atlanta instead of far away so that his children could visit more often. But Royal said he has no control over such matters.
According to a U.S. District Clerk of Court, the federal Bureau of Prisons will notify the probation office on the time and place for Goss’ incarceration.
In all, Goss’ victims included 41 individuals and 10 businesses. According to documents from the United District Court for the Middle District of Georgia Athens Division, Goss collected $1,929,314 from investors. The amount of restitution owed is $1,144,781.
Goss’ attorney, Ed Tolley of Athens, emphasized that initial investments by Goss in a Honduran orphanage and farm were legitimate, noting that, according to the government, approximately $700,000 was actually sent to the Honduras. The attorney said Goss was not actually licensed to take investments, adding that his client admits that he “lost that money and he’s responsible for it.”
“He admits that he was wrong and he lost a lot of money that belongs to these folks,” said Tolley, referring to the large courtroom crowd.
Goss, who employed three sales people, deposited $1.1 million in investor funds in several bank accounts he controlled.
“We don’t deny that; that’s the truth,” said Tolley.
According to court papers, investors received “interest payments” with the funds of newer investors.
After investors began to see the financial problems in their arrangement, Goss “periodically told investors that he was cooperating with the authorities in the investigation of others who Mark Goss contended were responsible for the failure of the investments,” court records stated.
Goss used the U.S. Mail to send investors “periodic updates,” which were sent between 2001 and 2010.
“This correspondence was designed to conceal the fact that Mark Goss had not invested the investors’ money as agreed, had paid investors interest payments with the investment money of other investors, and to convince investors that others were responsible for the failure of the purported investments and not Mark Goss,” according to the charges laid out by the federal government.
Goss, who was acquitted of child molestation charges by a Madison County jury in March 2006, faced the judge and read a prepared statement Monday. He said he was sorry that people lost their money and said he took “full responsibility” for his actions.
“I’d like to ask forgiveness for any hardships my actions may have caused,” said Goss, with his back to the crowd.
The brief statement followed four accounts from his victims, who told of how Goss brought financial ruin to them and their families.
Irlene Dean, who lost her home of 33 years after losing money to Goss, said Goss is a “thief” and a “liar.”
“Mark Goss is a person of no conscience,” said Dean. “He preyed on the sick, elderly and handicapped, took their IRAs and life savings. He used the church to feed his greed.”
Dean said Goss used investors’ money to travel to Europe, Israel and Cancun.
“He was living the high life on our money,” she said.
Wanda Thompson said her now-deceased parents worked hard all their lives, then invested their money with Goss.
“As the years went by, my parents’ health declined and they had given everything they had to Mark Goss to invest it,” said Thompson.
Thompson said that when her mother needed 24-hour health care, she resorted to a reverse mortgage and ultimately didn’t have a home to leave to her family after her passing.
“When it should have been the easiest time for my parents financially, it was the hardest,” said Thomas. “It’s wrong to come in to the house of God and persuade hard-working, innocent people to give up their money.”
Thompson asked for a stiff sentence so that “he and others like him won’t prey on the innocent.”
Becky Johnson said that she just wanted Goss to be honest with investors about where the money went. She and her husband invested with Goss.
“All we ever wanted was for Mark to tell the truth,” said Johnson. “And thus far, he has not told us and has not said he was sorry.”
Johnson said her husband worked hard for years at the University of Georgia with the aim of building a handicapped accessible home for their daughters.
She said she and her husband received repeated assurances from Goss that they would get their money back.
“For years, he sent us letters saying he was doing everything he could to get our money back, but we knew that wasn’t the case … He needs to be held accountable.”
Hubert Davis, an 86-year-old WWII veteran, said he initially invested with Goss after receiving recommendations from pastors and businesses that Goss was an “upstanding citizen who could be trusted.” Goss had come to his home seeking to get Davis to invest his money.
Davis said he initially invested $10,000 in January 2003, then Goss returned the following month and he gave him another $10,000. Goss returned soon after and asked Davis to invest his individual retirement accounts (IRAs), promising interest returns of 11 to 12 percent. Davis said he then turned over two $130,000 IRAs to Goss, bringing his total investment to $280,000.
“When I told him I’d have to withdraw my money, he said we’re in trouble, that someone had stolen all the money,” said Davis.
Davis said Goss didn’t seem very concerned and “kept giving excuses.” Goss then avoided Davis’ phone calls.
“I called several times and he wouldn’t answer,” said Davis.