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Guilty plea in land fraud

March 08, 2007|Christine Hanley | Times Staff Writer

A former USC lecturer who taught in the university's business school pleaded guilty Wednesday to conning his students and their parents out of $1.5 million by promising huge returns on real estate investments in Chicago and Las Vegas.

Barry Landreth, 37, faces up to 20 years in federal prison on a single felony count of wire fraud. He is scheduled to be sentenced June 4.

Landreth, a 2001 graduate of USC, was living in Coto de Caza and working as a part-time lecturer when he was arrested a year ago. He also was running Webster Realty Investors Inc., which billed itself as a diversified real estate investment and development company with projects nationwide, according to authorities.

Investigators found that Landreth hired students to work as project managers at his company and paid them to raise money to fund commercial development projects in Las Vegas and Chicago. The students persuaded their parents and others to invest. The investors were told the projects would yield a 190% return within 45 days.

Instead, Landreth deposited $718,000 of their money into his personal bank account, officials said. He used much of the remainder of the funds for personal expenses, prosecutors said, including $500,000 to buy and care for show jumping horses, a $73,000 Cadillac Escalade and $52,000 for brokerage accounts in his and his wife's names.

Investors grew suspicious when they did not get their returns, monthly investment statements failed to arrive and -- in at least two cases -- students were not paid.

The FBI said that those two students discovered that the properties they thought they had invested in were owned by someone else. When they asked for their money back, Landreth gave them excuses, court records show.

christine.hanley@latimes.com

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