Former Laurel loan officer pleads guilty to stealing from customers

A former Laurel County banker has admitted committing fraud to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Ben C. Johnson pleaded guilty Monday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert E. Wier. Wier said he would recommend that a federal judge accept the plea, according to a court document.

Johnson was a loan officer at a Forcht Bank office in London from November 2007 to June 2008, when the bank fired him after an internal review.

According to a plea agreement, Johnson stole money by keeping loan downpayments from customers; writing loans without customers' knowledge; and, most commonly, by approving loans larger than people requested.

In those cases, Johnson had two checks issued — one to give the customer for the requested amount, and one with an extra amount for himself, the plea deal said.

The fraud came to light after customer complaints about false delinquent notices or loan statements, according to a court document.

The bank put its loss at $336,803, according to the plea agreement.

The charge against Johnson carries a penalty of up to 30 years, but it's likely his sentence would be much less under advisory federal guidelines. Wier scheduled sentencing for May 27.