Local News

Suspect in Durham Loan Scandal Pleads Guilty

Posted October 8, 2007 7:04 p.m. EDT

— The former director of a federal small-business loan program charged in a 6-year-old fraud case pleaded guilty Monday to 20 counts of obtaining property by false pretenses.

Anita Bennett, who earlier this year pleaded innocent, was sentenced to nearly three years in prison and 36 months of supervised proation, and she was ordered to pay $180,000 in restitution for issuing more than $800,000 in loans to nonexistent companies.

She will report to jail Friday morning to begin serving her sentence.

Prosecutors said she funneled some of that money to her account.

Bennett had been contracted by Durham in 1999 to run the federal program, which was designed to encourage small businesses to open in low-income areas. She was fired from her job in 2001.

Bennett's attorney, Joe Cheshire, placed some of the blame on the program itself and on the people who took the loans and did not open businesses.

"There's a lot more to it than meets the eye, that I don't know will ever come out," Cheshire said.

Bennett's sister, Kathy Fenner, also faces charges in the case. She agreed Monday to 48 hours in jail.

Charges against Bennett's husband, James Bennett, were dropped last month after prosecutors said they did not have enough evidence to purse a case against him.