Local Attorney Indicted On Federal Charges

A Johnston County attorney has been indicted by a federal grand jury on fraud and money laundering charges. Joseph Lee Levinson, a Benson lawyer, was among three people named in the federal grand jury indictment filed in US District Court in Greensboro on December 14th.

Also named were Aubrey Manasseh Pruitt from Orange County and Dustin Garrett Fisher from Durham County. 

The indictment alleges Pruitt and Fisher operated a marijuana grow business between December 2005 and December 2010.  Authorities alleged Levinson helped obtain houses where the indoor grow operations were located and Levinson funded and recruited several investors.  Levinson also received cash and drugs from the operation.

Joseph-Lee-Levinson-FIFive grow houses were located near Hillsborough and one grow house was located near Rougemont, all in Orange County.

Federal prosecutors allege Pruitt, with Levinson and Fisher’s knowledge, obtained mortgage financing to purchase the homes as a  residence or as investment rental property. Approximately $949,247.00 in mortgage loans were obtained from three different banks to purchase 4 of the properties, concealing the real reason the homes were being purchased. After the transactions were completed, the homes were modified into “grow houses” to allow marijuana plants to be grown indoors. 

As part of the alleged conspiracy, in March 2006 Levinson filed or directed employees of his law office to file a warranty deed and two deeds of trust in favor of SunTrust Bank for one of the properties, knowing the deeds were part of a materially fraudulent mortgage loan transaction.      

In January 2007, Levinson gave Pruitt a sample lease agreement to use as a template to prepare false residential lease agreements to provide to Countrywide Bank to falsely show the bank 3 of the properties had tenants and that income was sufficient to pay the mortgage, when in fact the defendants knew the properties were being used to grow marijuana. 

Pruitt allegedly controlled Ramses Investments LLC for the sole purpose of concealing and promoting the drug operation by depositing cash proceeds into the bank accounts of the company then using the funds to pay expenses of the grow houses including utility bills, material costs, mortgage payments, and real estate taxes.  The company then distributed proceeds of the drug operation to the three defendants.  Ramses Investments was set up as limousine rental business, the indictment alleges. Between 2006 and 2010, approximately $1,853,321 in cash proceeds from the drug operation were deposited into Ramses Investments bank accounts.      

Levinson is also reported to have recruited investors into the drug operation, who would invest $25,000 into the drug operation to cover expenses and the purchases of homes and would receive a 100 percent return on their investment. Levinson allegedly kept $10,000 of the money for one investor for his own use while the remainder went to cover the costs of the drug operation.  

Pruitt also travelled from Durham and Orange counties to a pre-determined meeting place in Wake County to deliver cash proceeds from the operation to Levinson.  If cash proceeds were not available, Pruitt would deliver marijuana grown and produced at the grow house to Levinson. 

In May 2012, Levinson is also alleged to have given a false statement to an investigator with the IRS that he had no knowledge of the business.  

The Daily Record spoke with Levinson on Wednesday at his Benson law office. He referred the reporter to his attorney in Raleigh, who could not be immediately reached for a comment. 

Levinson will appear in federal court in Winston-Salem on Wednesday, January 6th at 9:30am.