Apollo Nida, the husband of Phaedra Parks, today pled guilty to charges of mail, wire and bank fraud in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.
In court, wearing a light-colored plaid jacket, Nida accepted charges that could land him in prison for up to 30 years and a fine of up to $1 million on top of restitution for an estimated $2.3 million he allegedly defrauded various individuals, financial institutions and government agencies. Judge Charles Pannell has set the sentencing hearing for July 8 at 2 p.m.
Alana Black, the assistant U.S. attorney, told Judge Pannell Nida's scheme in detail. He opened a fake debt collection agency to gain access to databases full of individual's personal information. He would then steal people's ID and find unclaimed funds, refunds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, stolen U.S. treasury checks and refunds from fraudulent U.S. income tax returns.
Nida had St. Julien open UPS mailboxes and bank checking accounts using those fake identities, deposit those checks, then pocket the money.
Later, he created fake auto dealerships and then get auto loans for phantom cars.
The U.S. Secret Service, working with the state consumer protection agency, caught St. Julien first, then was able to procure Nida's laptop with oodles of evidence that he could not refute.
Nida said in court that he takes "full responsibility for my actions" and expressed regret for hurting his family and any individuals and institutions affected by his fraud. "It was a dumb situation I put myself in," he said.
He did provide some context for his actions. In 2009, Nida had just left prison after five years for federal racketeering charges related to auto title fraud. He and Parks married and she soon signed on to be part of "Real Housewives of Atlanta."
He said she was making far more money than him and he felt pressure to keep up. (He cited a $600,000 contract for her but didn't say how long that was supposed to last.) Without easy legitimate ways to make quick money, he opted for this illegal scheme instead. But he claimed to her he was running a legitimate debt recovery firm and kept her firmly in the dark.
He said he even had a nervous breakdown at one point over the pressures to "sustain a lifestyle" befitting of a reality show star. And once he started the scheme, he found it difficult to stop. "I got sucked in and engulfed and lost sight of things," he said.
Nida said he often didn't think about whether this was hurting anybody because he was primarily targeting private businesses and the government, not individuals. And in the case of unclaimed property, what were the odds these folks would ever claim them?
An attempt to open a legal halfway house fell through, he said, because he was on probation for his prior conviction.
"It's my fault at the end of the day," he said.
Parks joined the show in 2010 and Nida has been a regular presence.
"The Real Housewives of Atlanta" wrapped its season with a third reunion show this past Sunday, drawing a best-ever reunion rating of 4.3 million viewers. The Porsha Williams "Watch What Happens Live" right afterwards, kept nearly everyone around: 3.9 million viewers.
Parks is expected to be back on the show season seven, which should be starting production soon. Since Nida is not expected to go to prison until July, this storyline will definitely play out in front of the cameras.