RALEIGH — Prominent Raleigh businesswoman Carolyn W. Grant pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud Wednesday, and now faces the possibility of spending more than a half-dozen years in prison.
Grant, 63, said little during her court appearance before U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle. She’s scheduled to be sentenced the week of Feb. 18.
Assistant U.S. Attorney David Bragdon, who prosecuted the case, told Boyle that he expects the recommended sentence for Grant to be between six and seven years.
Her plea represents a remarkable fall for a woman who first rose to prominence in the Triangle in the 1990s, becoming the first female chair of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce.
Grant submitted a statement along with her plea agreement, the contents of which we’re described by Bragdon during her court appearance.
Between March 2005 and March 2010, Bragdon said, Grant through numerous entities schemed and defrauded investors of between $2.5 million and $7 million. He said Grant told investors their money was being invested in specific real estate projects, when in actuality it was being used to pay back other investors or was used to pay personal and business expenses.
Bragdon said Grant misrepresented and made false promises about the status of projects, about the people who had invested in those projects, and about the equity that investors would receive in exchange for their money. The mail fraud occurred in June 2007 and was related to a real estate project on Louisburg Road in Raleigh.
Travel restrictions eased
The only moment of contention during Grant’s court appearance came after her attorney, Woody Webb Jr., requested loosening the travel restrictions placed on his client before sentencing.
Webb asked for permission for Grant to take a trip to Haiti to close a contract for her employer, the SunStone Water Group of Youngsville. The probation restrictions call for Grant to remain within the federal court’s Eastern District, but Webb said Grant makes frequent visits to New York and other places around the country for work.
Bragdon said the Haiti trip raised concerns for the government, since she is now facing considerable jail time and may be a flight risk. He also said the government knew little about what Grant would be doing and about where the money for the trip was coming from.
Grant works as a sales representative for SunStone. Webb said the company was paying for the trip to Haiti.
Boyle then asked why Grant’s work seemed such a priority when she is facing the likelihood of a lengthy prison sentence.
“I assume this immediate concern would outweigh these career objectives and work,” he said.
Webb said Grant would get a commission for completing the Haiti contract, money that could be used to pay restitution to Grant’s victims.
“That’s fine, but it’s not going to keep her out of jail,” Boyle said.
Boyle tentatively agreed to allow Grant to travel to Haiti, but that decision will be reviewed if the government files a formal objection.
Several of Grant’s spurned investors attended her arraignment, including Kevin Ellen. Ellen, who works for IBM in the Triangle, said his family invested $325,000 with Grant.
The investments initially provided high returns, which Ellen said prompted him to invest more. He said eventually the money stopped flowing. He said he met with Grant several times over the past three years, and she would always talk of different schemes to repay all his money.
“She’s a likeable character, but that wears off pretty quick,” Ellen said.
Ellen said he lost in excess of $200,000 investing with Grant, money that he doesn’t expect to ever get back.
Grant’s investors will have an opportunity to tell their stories to a judge before she is sentenced.
Grant declined to comment after her court appearance. Her attorney said she accepts responsibility for her actions and looks forward to sentencing, and to paying restitution.