Two Northeast Georgia truck drivers involved in an alleged conspiracy to defraud Temple-Inland Inc. of approximately $4.8 million pleaded guilty to a wire fraud conspiracy in U.S. District Court on Thursday.

Andrew Carthern and Roger Carthern, both of Jefferson, told Judge Robert L. Vining Jr. that when they were first approached to participate in the alleged conspiracy they did not know what they were getting into.

“I didn’t know I was breaking the law,” 63-year-old Roger Carthern told the judge.

According to the indictment, former Temple-Inland employee Aaron Freeman allegedly manipulated the scales to produce two weight readings for a single delivery — generating additional payments to conspiring timber brokers who then forwarded the money back to the others — and recruited drivers to participate in the scheme.

In 2004, Freeman reportedly recruited the Cartherns, telling them he had a friend who had timber but needed a broker to sell it, said federal prosecutor Will Traynor.

The idea struck both men as odd at the time, but the money seemed good, and they continued to participate in the conspiracy and allegedly met with Freeman to give him his cut.

The men both pocketed more than $300,000 in undelivered lumber as their part of the conspiracy.

But by the fall of 2005, the Cartherns both said they knew that “Mr. Freeman was perpetrating a fraud and they withdrew,” Traynor said.

“Many of the co-defendants like the Cartherns were hard-working men who paid taxes and had jobs and were seduced by Mr. Freeman with the lure of easy money,” Traynor said.

Six other men are also charged with conspiring to commit wire fraud. One other trucker, George Tate of Hartwell, has already pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy charges in January. He is scheduled to be sentenced in March.

Freeman and three of the other alleged conspirators are additionally charged with several counts of aiding and abetting each other to commit wire fraud.

Conspiracy to commit wire fraud is a felony and is punishable by as many as 20 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. Roger and Andrew Carthern are scheduled to be sentenced on the morning of April 22.

RNT