COVINGTON - Ulys Randall Riner pleaded guilty to multiple counts of failing to register securities in Newton County Superior Court Friday, bringing closure to his victims and former friends in Newton and Rockdale counties after more than seven years of waiting.
Riner, a former resident of Covington and Conyers, was scheduled to go to trial Monday. He was indicted by a Newton County grand jury in December 2006 on 20 counts of violation of the Georgia Securities Act. He pleaded guilty Friday to 17 counts of securities violations based on the fact that the promissory notes he issued his investors through his firm, Express Factors, were not properly registered with the Georgia Secretary of State.
In the negotiated plea, Riner, 61, was sentenced to 20 years, the first three to be served in prison, with the prison time suspended upon payment of $125,000 in restitution within 60 days of sentencing. In addition, Riner will be on probation for 20 years and must spend the next two years in the Newton County work-release program beginning Nov. 9. He also must pay $2,000 a month in restitution beginning Nov. 1. The total restitution to be paid is $2,041,715.13.
As part of the negotiated plea, Riner waived venue, according to defense attorney Anthony Cochran, so that victims in Rockdale County will also share in the restitution.
District Attorney Ken Wynne said the restitution will be paid to victims on a pro rata basis. In addition, he said any windfall Riner receives - such as life insurance proceeds or lottery winnings - must go towards restitution. Riner is also prohibited from engaging in the factoring business, Wynne said, which is what led to the securities fraud.
Wynne said if Riner, who was sentenced as a first offender, fails to make the $125,000 payment within 60 days, he will be sent to the state prison at Jackson.
Defense attorney Cochran said that Riner, who lives in Watkinsville and works as a physicians assistant, filed personal bankruptcy and does not have the funds himself.
"He'll have to borrow it from his elderly parents who have a little nest egg," Cochran said. "He doesn't have the money."
Cochran said Riner's plea was negotiated so that he will have the opportunity to keep his physicians assistant license. That will be determined in a hearing before the Georgia Composite Medical Board. Cochran said that under the plea arrangement, Wynne agreed to write a letter to the board recommending that Riner retain his license.
Before sentencing by Judge Horace Johnson, Riner read an apology to his victims, about a dozen of whom were in the courtroom. Riner, standing slightly stooped between his defense attorney and the prosecutor, choked with emotion as he read his statement.
"Words simply cannot express how deeply sorry I am for the pain and suffering, as well as the financial loss, I have caused so many people," he said.
Riner said he never intended to hurt anyone and blamed it on bad decision-making.
"I pray someday they will find it in their hearts to forgive me for the mistakes I have made. I am truly sorry," he concluded.
Members of the Walker Harris family, who lost hundreds of thousands in the securities fraud, were seated behind Riner as he made his apology.
Outside the courtroom, Katie Davis, granddaughter of Walker Harris, expressed relief.
"We're just glad it's over," she said.
Her father, Tony Harris, who at one time was a close friend of Riner's, said he was satisfied with the sentencing.
When asked how he felt about Riner's apology, Harris declined to share those feelings.
"I really wasn't looking for (an apology)," he said. "I knew it was a possibility, but I wasn't looking for it."
Wynne said his chief objective in the plea negotiations was to try to recover as much money as possible for Riner's victims, several of whom are elderly.
"The worst part about this case was the sense of betrayal (the victims) felt," Wynne said.
Many of Riner's victims were friends who had invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in his Express Factors firm in the late 1980s until his firm filed bankruptcy in 2002.
Riner's business involved factoring government contracts, meaning he would purchase the accounts receivables of businesses doing government contract work at a discount and receive full payment from the government agency once the contracts were fulfilled.
The Securities Division of the Secretary of State's Office began investigating Riner in 2004 for possible securities violations after Express Factors filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in June 2002, and after at least two investors filed civil suits against Riner in Newton and Rockdale counties seeking more than a combined $1.5 million in damages, legal fees and lost investments.
Investments in Riner's factoring business were documented by promissory notes that matured at various times. Individual investments ranged from a few hundred dollars to more than $600,000.
At the time of Express Factors' bankruptcy filing, the bankruptcy court trustee alleged that Riner operated Express Factors as a profitable business until 1996 when Riner began to make uncollateralized loans to client Agra Cable in North Carolina. Agra Cable owed Express Factors more than $3.6 million when it filed bankruptcy in North Carolina, according to the trustee.