Man accused of fraud, money laundering in scheme to buy one of Mississippi’s most historic houses, luxury cars to change ‘not guilty’ plea

Published 6:30 am Saturday, December 11, 2021

A man accused of committing fraud and money laundering in a scheme to buy one of Mississippi’s most historic mansions, hotels and at least 20 high-end luxury cars has requested a hearing to change his not guilty plea in federal court.

Ryan Mullen has requested a hearing in U.S. Court in the Eastern District of New Orleans.

Mullen was indicted by a federal grand jury in October 2020 with one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, four counts of bank fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and three counts of money laundering. He is alleged to have used fraudulent means to purchase a home in Jayess, The Briars historic home in Natchez as well as Hotel Vue and Super 8 Motel.

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Built in 1818, the Briars is a historic house in Natchez where Varina Howell Davis, the First Lady of the Confederate States of America, spent her adolescence. Jefferson Davis and Varina reportedly married in the parlor of the house on Feb. 26, 1845.

Prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s office also allege Mullen used $3 million he received from lenders by overvaluing properties with phony appraisals to purchase at least 20 high-end luxury cars.

The court has set a hearing date for the plea change for Jan. 26, 2022, at 9:30 a.m. The filing does not indicate what his new plea will be.

Repeated attempts to reach Mullen or his attorneys, Edward J. Castaing Jr. and Peter E. Castaing of Crull, Castaing & Lilly Law of New Orleans, have been unsuccessful.

Mullen had been set for a pre-trial conference on Jan. 5, 2022, and his trial was scheduled to begin on Jan. 31, 2022.

Mullen’s co-conspirator, Duane Dufrene, 54, of Destrehan, Louisiana, changed his plea to guilty on Nov. 24 on one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and one count of money laundering, according to a press release issued by U.S. Attorney Duane A. Evans’ office.

Judge Jane Triche Milazzo of the U.S. Eastern District Court in New Orleans has set sentencing of Dufrene for Feb. 23, 2022.

Evans said Dufrene could face 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.

Keesler Federal Credit Union, which provided funds for Mullen’s purchase of The Briars, has foreclosed on that property and taken possession of it, said Jackson attorney Derrick Henderson, who represents Keesler.

Red Oak Capital Group LLC, which loaned Mullen the funds for the purchase of Hotel Vue and Super 8 Motel in Natchez, has also foreclosed on those properties and taken possession of each.