Nine charged in nearly $5 million timber scam

Nine men were arraigned Monday on federal charges they tricked a paper mill into paying $4.8 million for timber that was never delivered.

The defendants are accused of scamming the Temple-Inland paper mill outside of Rome from 2004 to 2006.

The indictment alleges that:

Aaron Freeman worked as a scale house operator at the mill. He learned how to manipulate the computer system to produce two weight readings when a single truck passed through the paper mill's scale -- one for the weight of timber actually delivered, another for a phantom load. Freeman then recruited truck drivers to take credit for the phantom loads and share the profits.

These men are charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud: Freeman, 49, of Rome; Kevin Fields, 31, of Forsyth; Curtis Hart, 52, and Jason Joseph, 32, both of Macon; Roger Carthern, 63, and Andrew Carthern, 40, both of Jefferson; J. David Carthern, 64, of Commerce; Robert Frank Ferguson Jr., 56, of Maysville; and George Tate, 40, of Hartwell.

The offense is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 per count.

Freeman, Fields and Joseph also are charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering, which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.

All the defendants except Joseph were arraigned Monday in federal court in Rome. Joseph will be arraigned next week.