Several Black buyers are coming forward after their dreams of homeownership in rural Georgia quickly turned to nightmares.
Marlena Barnett – a Black woman – is being accused of selling land she didn’t own in what was advertised as a resort community where buyers could build everything from cabins to vacation townhomes on acres of land.
Alleged victim Bonnie Hunt, claims she was a victim of Barnett after she invested thousands of dollars and received a deed that she couldn’t file because Barnett didn’t own the land.
Black Woman Accused Of Scamming Black Buyers In Georgia With Fraudulent Land For Sale And Fake Deeds
Several others claim they were scammed out of their money under similar circumstances. Barnett allegedly collected thousands of dollars for plots of land that she didn’t own and is now struggling to pay the investors back what they’re owed.
According to Barnett, investors have since been sent a refund request form and she’s started issuing refunds to those individuals.
However, the Chattooga County Sheriff’s Office is now launching a criminal investigation into Marlena Barnett and the Lakes Of Summerville project. Could Barnett have been selling nothing more than dreams? Or could there be more to the story?
The Shade Room investigates…
The rollout seemed promising enough: the first promising Black woman-owned subdivision in the country, energy efficient homes sitting on hundreds of acres of land.
Fishing ponds, bike trails, and even a clubhouse, the project promised.
There was even a ribbon cutting.
Victim Says She Was Sold On The Idea, Lost Thousands Of Dollars In Investments
A YouTube video that breaks down the costs showed modular homes starting as low as $180,000. The project also added that it could generate income from vacation rental properties.
Bonnie Hunt was sold on the idea.
“I wanted to have something for the kids, for my family, to get a cabin so we can get away from all the noise (of the city),” Hunt told TSR Investigates‘ Justin Carter. “I initially paid a downpayment of $1,000 and a week later I paid another $6,500, so in total I paid about $7,500 for an acre of land.”
In Nov. 2021, she even signed a general contract, and said she finally got the deed in Aug. 2022.
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Check out these plans for first Black woman-owned resort communities in Georgia
“Lakes of Summerville”.
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— Notedd (@notedd_) August 15, 2020
“That’s when we found out about the deeds, and that she didn’t own the land. That’s when all hell broke loose.”
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The Shade Room Speaks To Marlena Barnett, Asks Her About The Accusations
The Shade Room called up Marlena Barnett – the leader and brain behind Lakes of Summerville to ask her about the accusations.
“We wanted the the project to be completed with within a 12-month span, but unfortunately that did not happen,” Barnett said. “Unfortunately when you’re trying to do a big project like this and you don’t have all of the financial resources and you can’t unite and bring everyone together, you do run up against issues.”
But here’s where it gets tricky. Barnett pocketed thousands of dollars for plots of land that she technically didn’t own.
Per a local newspaper, most of the land in question is owned by a retired couple Will and Judy Hair, who according to court records agreed to sell the land to Barnett for $490,000.
— I GOTreceipts🇺🇲 (@igotreceipts2) March 8, 2023
The Hairs claim Barnett never paid, and they eventually pulled out of the deal.
Company That Owned Part Of The Land Says Barnett Never Made Any Payments On The Land
Another company, CMJM, owns other parts of the property. Barnett provided The Shade Room some emails between her and the company to get the deed transferred, however she claims county officials intervened because they didn’t want Black property owners in rural Chattooga County.
“I reached out to (officials) several times but was discouraged to find they wouldn’t work with us,” Barnett added.
She says that stalled all progress in development and caused her to fall behind on payments.
But a representative from CMJM said Barnett never made any payments for the land, and is trying to place the blame on other people, and went on to say Barnett breached their contract and fraudulently sold land to people across the country.
Another Victim Calls Project “Ponzi Scheme,” Authorities Launch Criminal Investigation
Jacobi Thornton, another victim in the scam, said the whole thing was “a Ponzi scheme, and we just don’t know who to trust.”
Barnett said the victims will be sent a refund request form, and that she has already started issuing refunds, but that much of the funds are unable to be recouped.
She has promised to pay investors back over time, but some victims aren’t buying it.
“I don’t want a payment plan,” Hunt said. “I want my money back in whole.”
The Chattooga County Sheriff’s Office in Georgia isn’t buying it either, and has launched a criminal investigation into Barnett and the Lakes of Summerville project.