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June 2, 11

NEWS / Former Omni Bank Vice President Sentenced to Federal Prison for Taking Bribes

Karim Lawrence Received More Than $600,000 of Illegal Payments

ATLANTA—KARIM WALTHOUR LAWRENCE, 34, of Atlanta, Georgia, was sentenced today by United States District Judge Willis B. Hunt, Jr. to serve one year and nine months in federal prison on charges of taking bribes while he was employed as a vice president of Omni National Bank.

“Bank officers owe duties of honesty and integrity to both their shareholders and members of the community,” said United States Attorney Sally Quillian Yates. “The Omni bank case is an example of what happens when criminal activity corrupts a key business for an entire community. The ripple effects are being felt with every conviction from inside this failed bank.”

Christy Romero, Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, (SIGTARP), Special Inspector General, said, “Today’s sentencing of Karim Lawrence signals that individuals who attempt to take advantage of the American taxpayer during this financial crisis will be brought to justice. Lawrence, an officer of a bank that eventually failed, took advantage of his position by accepting bribes in order to personally gain from the mortgage crisis. SIGTARP and its law enforcement partners are committed to holding all bad actors, no matter how large or small their role, accountable. We will remain steadfast in our pursuit to bring to justice those who caused or illegally benefitted from the financial crisis.”

“This defendant preyed upon the American public struggling during this economic crisis. In doing so, he underestimated Postal Inspectors’ commitment to protecting the American public and the nation’s mail system. Today’s sentence will give the defendant plenty of time to think about those he victimized and ultimately the demise of yet another failed bank,” said Martin D. Phanco, U.S. Postal Inspector in Charge of the Atlanta Division.

LAWRENCE was sentenced to one year and nine months in prison, to be followed by five years of supervised release, and was ordered to perform 200 hours of community service. He was also ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $656,919. LAWRENCE pleaded guilty to the charges on January 5, 2011.

According to United States Attorney Yates, the charges and other information presented in court: LAWRENCE, a law school graduate, was previously employed as a vice president at the now-failed Omni National Bank. In his role as a bank officer, from February 2008 to March 2009, LAWRENCE had the authority to select contractors to perform renovations on foreclosed properties the bank owned. LAWRENCE corruptly accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars from contractors who wanted to do work on the Omni houses. Contractors who hoped to influence LAWRENCE collectively paid him more than $600,000 in cash and services.

Additional Omni-related prosecutions to date include:

* JEFFREY L. LEVINE, 70, of Atlanta, Georgia, was sentenced on April 22, 2011, to five years in federal prison for causing materially false entries that overvalued bank assets to be made in the books, reports, and statements of Omni.
* DELROY OLIVER DAVY, 38, of Lithonia, Georgia, was sentenced on April 22, 2011, to 14 years in prison for bank fraud and conspiracy to commit bank, mail, and wire fraud. DAVY paid bribes to another Omni employee.
* CHRISTOPHER BERNARD LOVING, 33, of McDonough, Georgia, was sentenced on August 24, 2010, to three years’ probation for making false statements to agents of the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP) and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) in connection with an investigation of kickbacks he paid LAWRENCE for renovation contracts.
* BRENT MERRIELL, 39, of Atlanta, Georgia, was sentenced on August 3, 2010, to over three years in prison for making false statements to the FDIC regarding short-sales of Omni-funded properties and aggravated identity theft. Merriell’s conviction resulted from a SIGTARP/FDIC sting operation.

This law enforcement action is part of President Barack Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force.

President Obama established the interagency Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force to wage an aggressive, coordinated, and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. The task force includes representatives from a broad range of federal agencies, regulatory authorities, inspectors general, and state and local law enforcement who, working together, bring to bear a powerful array of criminal and civil enforcement resources. The task force is working to improve efforts across the federal executive branch, and with state and local partners, to investigate and prosecute significant financial crimes, ensure just and effective punishment for those who perpetrate financial crimes, combat discrimination in the lending and financial markets, and recover proceeds for victims of financial crimes.

These cases are being investigated by special agents of a Mortgage Fraud Task Force, comprised, for Omni-related cases, of the Housing and Urban Development Office of Inspector General, the United States Postal Inspection Service, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Office of Inspector General, the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, (SIGTARP), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The task force is continuing a number of Omni-related investigations.

Assistant United States Attorneys Gale McKenzie and Christopher Bly prosecuted the case.

For further information, please contact Sally Q. Yates, United States Attorney, or Charysse L. Alexander, Executive Assistant United States Attorney, through Patrick Crosby, Public Affairs Officer, U.S. Attorney’s Office, at (404) 581-6016. The Internet address for the HomePage for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia is www.justice.gov/usao/gan.


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AnnaMaria Realbuto
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