April 5, 2001
Engel pleads guilty - 'It is the truth, sir'
BY CARL WALWORTH
URBANA - A former owner of a local construction business and related firms
who is accused of a prominent role in handling money and developing real estate
properties in the Omega Trust and Trading program pleaded guilty Wednesday to
one count of money laundering conspiracy.
In making the plea, Chris Engel, 31, agreed to cooperate with the ongoing
investigation, including filing of a personal financial statement, and to truthfully
and completely testify at the trial for other defendants. Engel remains in federal
The plea of Engel and Barry Bullington brings to five the number of defendants
admitting to playing a role in the Omega scheme that prosecutors contend was a
phony investment deal in which investors were falsely told to expect a return of as
much as $5,100 on a $100 investment in about nine months. At least 10,000 people
lost more than $20 million over a period of more than four years, documents filed
in court contend.
Engel was more relaxed than at earlier court appearances before changing his
plea before federal Magistrate Judge David Bernthal. He smiled and made a few
comments to relatives in the courtroom, and exchanged greetings with others
including an investigator and the lead prosecutor.
Engel agreed that he was involved with transactions in the conspiracy totaling at
least $6 million but not more than $10 million.
In describing his actions to the judge, Engel said he assisted Clyde Hood in
depositing and spending money that people thought was going into an investment
program called Omega. Either Omega or Hood was named on most of the checks,
Engel is accused of, in conjunction with Hood and others, using the money to
purchase real estate, fund businesses, buy vehicles, buy tools, make payroll at his
businesses, make loan payments for his businesses and to pay some personal
living expenses. In some cases, the property being developed was titled in other
The plea agreement in detail describes a few of the transactions involving
hundreds of thousands of dollars each and one case more than a million dollars
at financial institutions including the State Bank of Farina, Central National
Bank of Mattoon, First Mid-Illinois Bank & Trust, Community Bank and Trust in
Olney, and Union Planters Bank in Chesterfield, Mo. "It is the truth, sir," Engel
told the judge of his involvement.
He also recruited his sister, Susan Engel Hoehne, to deposit money in her
business account in McAlester, Okla. Engel agreed that the purpose of the
transactions was to conceal the source and ownership of the funds, thereby
"laundering" funds for the benefit of himself and others that thousands of people
believed were investments. The transactions outlined to the court include the
purchase of the "Our Own Original Bakery" that was never developed at 1717 Lake
Land Blvd. in Mattoon and the now-closed Bluebird Diner off Marshall Avenue.
Prosecutor Esteban Sanchez also described an occasion in which Engel allegedly
witnessed $175,000 removed from a safe at the home of Hood's daughter to go
toward the purchase of a home in Mattoon for James Turner, who also is a
defendant in the Omega case. Engel said he never asked, nor did he volunteer, to
invest any of his own money in Omega.
"Mr. Hood contracted me to build buildings for him that he made loans on," Engel
said. "I deposited money for Mr. Hood and borrowed money from him to finance
business ventures I was involved in."
Sentencing for Engel was set for 3:30 p.m. July 13.
If Engel and/or Bullington provide substantial assistance in the case, they could
receive favorable credits toward their sentence. Federal sentencing guidelines
"score" people convicted of crimes on a variety of factors, and prosecutors may ask
for a "downward departure" on the score for those who cooperate.
Prosecutors agree in the plea to recommend a sentence for Engel in the "middle to
low" end of the sentencing guidelines, though the judge isn't required to accept
those recommendations. The maximum prison sentence for Engel is 20 years,
though Engel may not be eligible for that length sentence because of his points in
the sentencing guidelines.
Counts against Engel for conducting monetary transactions with proceeds of
illegal activity are to be dropped at sentencing.
Bullington pleads guilty; had 'minimal role,'
URBANA - A Mattoon businessman/Realtor pleaded guilty to one count of
conducting monetary transactions with proceeds of illegal activity Wednesday in
Barry Bullington, 51, who remains out on bond, is accused of entering into real
estate agreements that involved illegally obtained money through a program
known as Omega Trust and Trading while he was an agent for Century 21 real
estate in Mattoon. Sentencing is set for July.
In the plea agreement, Bullington stipulates the amount of the transactions he
was involved in totals between $350,000 and $600,000. Prosecutors describe
Bullington's role in the allegedly phony Omega investment program as
The one transaction detailed in the plea involves the purchase of property at 1717
Lake Land Blvd. in the name of the "Our Own Original Bakery Inc.," which never
was developed as a business by Clyde Hood or Phil Haskell, another Omega
defendant who allegedly was involved in the property purchase.
In the plea, Bullington acknowledges he knew or should have known or suspected
that money used in the transaction was illegally obtained. "I understand I should
have known something was wrong," Bullington told Magistrate Judge David
The maximum sentence for the charge Bullington pleaded guilty to is 10 years,
but it's unlikely he'll qualify for the maximum based on federal sentencing
guidelines. Bullington could help his case at sentencing with further cooperation
with investigators. Prosecutors agreed to recommend a sentence in the "low to
middle" range of the maximum that Bullington qualifies for under the
guidelines, though the judge isn't bound by that.
The count to be dropped against Bullington at sentencing is a charge of money
The recent guilty pleas add witnesses the government plans to use at the trial for
remaining Omega defendants.
Clyde Hood's attorney, Douglas McNabb of Texas, was in court to hear
Bullington's plea. Asked afterward if the guilty pleas affect his client, McNabb
said: "Mr. Hood has a good heart and he maintains his innocence."
The trial for all defendants but Clyde Hood is set to begin in May in Springfield.
Hood's trial is scheduled for July.
Lead prosecutor Esteban Sanchez said afterward that more guilty pleas are likely
in the near future. The final pre-trial hearing is scheduled for April 11 in