Co-conspirator Dufrene in case involving The Briars and Hotel Vue changes plea to guilty; sentencing set for Feb. 23, 2022

Published 3:36 pm Wednesday, December 8, 2021

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NATCHEZ — Duane Dufrene, 54, of Destrehan, Louisiana, pleaded guilty on Nov. 24 to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and one count money laundering in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana in New Orleans.

Dufrene was charged along with alleged co-conspirator Ryan Mullen, who has been living in Natchez, of using fraudulent means to purchase a home in Jayess and The Briars historic home in Natchez as well as Hotel Vue and Super 8 Motel.

Mullen and Dufrene were due in court for a pre-trial conference on Jan. 5, 2022, with a trial date set for Jan. 31, 2022, before Judge Jane Triche Milazzo of U.S. District Court in New Orleans.

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However, Dufrene sought to change his plea to guilty, apparently as part of a plea deal with prosecutors, though that has not been confirmed.

Mullen and Dufrene were each indicted in October 2020 with one count conspiracy to commit bank fraud, four counts of bank fraud, one count conspiracy to commit money laundering and three counts of money laundering.

According to an indictment that was unsealed in October 2020, Dufrene and Mullen used fictitious entities, falsified tax returns, fraudulent financial statements and fraudulent appraisals to defraud lenders for the purchase of a resident in Jayess with funds from State Bank and Trust, The Briars historic home with funds from Keesler Federal Credit Union and Hotel Vue and Super 8 in Natchez using funds obtained from Red Oak Capital Group LLC.

According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New Orleans, Dufrene provided false information to Mullen, who gave it to State Bank and Trust to purchase the home in Jayess.

“The sale of the Briars and the two hotels (in Natchez) were not only premised upon false information prepared by Dufrene and given to the financial institutions by Mullen but also upon inflated appraisals based on side sales agreements between Mullen and Dufrene,” said U.S. Attorney Duane A. Evans in the press release.

“After the sales of the bed and breakfast and hotel properties, Mullen paid Dufrene the sum of $90,000. Mullen pocketed over $3 million from the overvalued loans and used the proceeds to buy at least 20 high-end luxury cars, a number of which have been seized by the United States,” Evans said in the press release.

Red Oak Capital Group LLC has foreclosed on the Hotel Vue and Super 8 properties and is in possession of those. Red Oak has hired a management group and is operating them until a new owner is found.

Keesler Federal Credit Union completed foreclosure of The Briars on Oct. 21, 2021.

Attorney Derrick Henderson of Jackson, who represents Keesler, said has taken possession of The Briars.

“The locks have been changed and a caretaker is living on the property,” Henderson said.

Edward Castaing and Peter Castaing of Crull, Castaing & Lilly Law of New Orleans are representing Mullen in his criminal proceedings. According to court records, Mullen’s next appearance should be at a pre-trial conference on Jan. 5, 2022.

Dufrene’s sentencing is set for Feb. 23, 2022. He faces a maximum sentence of up to 30 years as to the bank fraud conspiracy, a maximum of up to 10 years on the money laundering conspiracy, as well as up to five years of supervised release and a $1 million fine on the bank fraud count and up to three years supervised release and up to a $250,000 fine on the money laundering count, according to the release.