A property developer previously tied to more than 1,700 acres of land in north Forsyth County has been sentenced to federal prison for fraud.
According to a press release from the United States Attorney’s Office Northern District of Georgia, Louis Beria, 64, of Milton was recently sentenced to four years, three months in prison for defrauding a company and its elderly owner, German billionaire and entrepreneur Werner Wicker, who Beria previously managed an apartment complex for and served as an advisor.
“The victim trusted Beria to manage his property but was betrayed when the defendant diverted over $1.6 million for his own benefit,” Acting U.S. Attorney Kurt R. Erskine said in a news release. “With elder fraud unfortunately on the rise, it remains a priority for our office.”
Erskine said in the release the Wicker hired Beria years earlier after purchasing property in north Georgia.
“Beria stole the hard-earned money of an investor who trusted him to manage his properties,” said Chris Hacker, special agent in charge of FBI Atlanta, in the release. “No matter how clever the investment scam is, the FBI will find and hold accountable anyone who preys on unsuspecting investors.”
Wicker hired Beria to manage an apartment complex he owned in Atlanta. While managing that apartment complex, Beria himself owned a separate apartment complex in Atlanta. Beria hired a company to do construction work on the complex he owned but used money from the victim’s apartment complex to pay for it.
“Ultimately, Beria stole $1,621,979 and lied to the victim about how he used this money,” the release said.
Beria pled guilty to the charges in November 2020 and was ordered to repay the full amount to Wicker. His prison sentence will be followed by three years of supervised release.
The case was investigated by the FBI.
According to a Feb. 19, 2019 story by the Forsyth County News, the civil lawsuit, Wicker v. Paramatma, which was filed in district court on Jan. 25 of that year and attorneys alleged that Beria, then described as a resident of Forsyth County, and Prabhu Paramatma, of India, conspired together and misappropriated or fraudulently obtained millions of dollars from Wicker during a series of large-parcel land investments made in Forsyth County in 2014.
The complaint alleges that between 2014 and 2018, Beria and Paramatma “engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity” by brokering the sale of approximately 1,800 acres of land in north Forsyth for Wicker, while allegedly misrepresenting the prices paid and conspiring to obtain Wicker’s assets in various ways.
In June 2015, Wicker’s land investments extended out of Forsyth County, when he purchased the Westminster Square Apartments in Marietta through the defendants for $43,500,000 under a new company name, Wicker LLC, the complaint states.
According to Cobb County tax records, Westminster Square Apartments is now owned by SAKS Management and Associates LLC. The property was purchased by Wicker LLC in June 2015, and was sold to Saks Management and Associates LLC in July 2017 for $26.7 million.
In the complaint, SAKS Management and Associates LLC is listed as a defendant and is described as “Beria’s company,” though no explanation is given for how Beria is associated with the company.
On Feb. 4, 2019, U.S. District Court Judge Richard W. Story, who heard the case, directed attorneys representing the parties to give names of individuals that would oversee Wicker LLC during litigation.
Story continues below
Story appointed Atlanta asset manager Spencer Patton, as the receiver of Wicker LLC, with the “paramount duty” to “preserve and protect the value of Wicker LLC’s assets by overseeing and maintaining the real and personal property that it owns” and defending the company in existing and legal actions.
An attorney for SAKS Management and Associates stated in court documents that it would be “inappropriate” for the court to appoint a receiver over Westminster Apartments, because they are not owned by Wicker LLC.
“In reality, [Wicker’s] Emergency Motion is a tactical move to seize the rental income of SAKS generated by Westminster Apartments,” attorney Christopher Joseph Hoffman stated in the document.
Story’s order now granted Wicker’s attorneys access to documents and land owned by SAKS Management and Associates, prohibits SAKS Management and Associates from “selling, conveying and/or encumbering” Westminster Apartments, and prohibits Patton from exercising any control over the apartments.
Another FCN story from February 2019 reported that court documents stated that Wicker began placing more and more trust in Paramatma, and eventually gave Paramatma power of attorney over his financial interests.
Records show that on May 16 and July 3, 2014, Wicker purchased about 750 acres of land in north Forsyth off of Nicholson Road (referred to as the River Property) and about 1,105 acres near Mount Tabor Road (referred to as the Redding Property) through Beria and Paramatma.
According to the complaint, Wicker was led to believe that the price paid for the land was $19,500,000 for the River Property and $36,000,000 for the Redding Property, but purchase agreements included in the complaint show that the true price of the land was $12,100,000 and $22,000,000, respectively.
The complaint states that Wicker paid $11,700,000 to LSC 1 Management – a “Foreign Profit Corporation” that Beria is chief executive officer, chief financial officer and secretary of, according to the Georgia Secretary of State – for land clearing agreements on the Redding Property and $9,000,000 for the River Property.
It also alleges that contracts for both land clearing agreements are illegal and void because LSC 1 is “not a licensed general contractor under Georgia law.”
The complaint states that the alleged fraud was finally discovered by Wicker in December 2018 in connection with a pending New York lawsuit “in which (Wicker) and Paramatma are defendants.”
After the alleged fraud was discovered, the complaint states that Wicker’s lawyers “demanded on Paramatma and Beria/LSC 1 to provide (Wicker) with documents relating to the above referenced transactions and the financial affairs of Wicker” but so far defendants have failed to provide that information.
Alex Popp contributed to this report