Feds indict Bobby Willis on wire fraud charges

Willis, 43, accused in real estate scheme related to proposed VA hospital project

Steve Garrison
Bobby Willis

FARMINGTON — Local businessman Bobby Willis has been indicted in the U.S. District Court of New Mexico on allegations he defrauded nearly $1 million from a San Juan County couple in a real estate scheme.

Willis, 43, allegedly convinced Joseph and Theresa Lee to purchase 5 percent ownership in a real estate investment company he controlled in spring 2010, according to the Oct. 20 indictment.

The Lees were told investors would not see returns during the company's first five years so that the gains could be reinvested in property, the indictment states. Willis allegedly told the Lees that he and others had invested "millions of dollars" in the company.

Willis is accused of stealing $995,000 from the Lees' $1 million investment and spending it on non-business related expenses, the indictment states. According to the indictment, $900,000 was transferred on Oct. 25, 2010, from the bank account of Cooney Real Estate Investments to an account controlled by the Bobby L. Willis and Carrie S. Willis Trust. On Nov. 18, 2010, another $95,000 was transferred from Cooney Real Estate Investments to the same account.

Willis allegedly told other individuals to reassure the Lees that their investment had grown in value, according to the indictment.

Willis was indicted on two counts of wire fraud and is expected to be arraigned Wednesday morning at the U.S. District courthouse in Albuquerque. The U.S. Department of Justice stated in the indictment it will request that Willis forfeit at least $1 million upon conviction.

Willis' attorney, Todd Bruce Hotchkiss, said Monday he had no comment on the case.

Carrie Willis, Bobby Willis' ex-wife who was reached by phone on Monday, said Bobby Willis was not available for comment. She did not respond to the allegations against her ex-husband.

FBI spokesman Frank Fisher said he could not comment on a pending investigation. Elizabeth Martinez, spokeswoman for the Department of Justice, also declined to answer questions, but confirmed that Willis will appear at Wednesday's arraignment.

According to court records, the Lees sued Bobby and Carrie Willis in Albuquerque District Court in April 2014 over the same investments that are now the subject of the federal criminal action.

The Lees allege in the lawsuit that Bobby Willis and another man, Ronnie Garner, offered them the opportunity in 2010 to invest in the construction of a veterans administration hospital in Kirtland.

Willis allegedly told the Lees that their investment would deliver a 12-percent return after a five-year period, according to the complaint. The Lees used their retirement savings to invest a little more than $1 million in the project, the complaint states.

The Lees allege Bobby and Carrie Willis and another defendant, Timothy Cooney, embezzled the Lees' investment funds and may have used those funds to purchase various properties throughout San Juan County.

Attached to the complaint is the Lees' investment agreement with Cooney and IRA payments made to Cooney Real Estate Investments.

Cooney filed a response to the civil complaint on Sept. 22, 2014, denying allegations he defrauded the Lees and claiming he was also a victim of Bobby Willis. Cooney could not be reached for comment on Monday.

Bobby and Carrie Willis denied the Lees' allegations in June 2014.

A hearing in the case is scheduled for Thursday.

Garner filed a lawsuit against Bobbie and Carrie Willis in March 2013 making similar fraud allegations related to the Kirtland hospital project.

Willis was charged in state court in August 2010 with multiple counts of fraud and embezzlement on allegations he defrauded escrow accounts held by New Mexico Title Co. He is also accused of defrauding millions of dollars from two other alleged investors in the Kirtland hospital project.

Willis remains out of jail on $250,000 in bonds posted in that case. He is currently living with Carrie Willis, according to court records.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644.