In Little Rock, Arkansas, seven individuals have been charged with defrauding the U.S. Department of Agriculture out of over $11.5 million. Rosie Bryant, Delois Bryant, Brenda Sherpell, Lynda Charles—all sisters—and Niki Charles, Lynda’s daughter, allegedly recruited farmers who are black, Hispanic, or female and asked them to pretend they were being discriminated against by the USDA. A tax preparer and a lawyer are also involved. It is not clear whether all involved parties have acquired legal representation.
According to the accusation, the accused parties worked together to submit false claims. This allegedly resulted in lawsuits involving hundreds of people and settlements in the millions. It is also alleged that a tax preparer was hired to falsify tax returns, resulting in failure to report over $4.6 million to the Internal Revenue Service.
The indictment also states that from 2008 to 2017, the five women conspired to make it look like the USDA was discriminating against minority and female farmers who were applying for benefits. The defendants allegedly recruited minority and female farmers to file false claims asserting they were discriminated against when seeking USDA benefits. It is not clear whether any of these parties have been charged.
Everett Martindale, a lawyer, acted as the legal representative for most of the claimants that the women recruited. Jerry Green, a tax preparer, is accused of filing doctored tax returns for the sisters.
The defendants filed a first claim was submitted according to the Black Farmers Discrimination Litigation (BFDL). This Settlement resulted from a class-action lawsuit filed in 1997, in which a group of people claimed they had been discriminated against when they applied for farm benefits from the USDA. A second claim was submitted under the Hispanic and Women Farmers and Ranchers Litigation (HWFR) Settlement. This HWFR Litigation originated when groups of Hispanic and female farmers filed separate lawsuits against USDA, also alleging discrimination.
The plan was wildly successful at first. Both litigations resulted in a claims process. The first claim resulted in an award of $62,500. $12,500 was transferred directly to the Internal Revenue Service as a tax withholding and $50,000 to the claimant. It is alleged that a total of 192 claims were made, almost all of which were successful, generating a deficit of $11.5 million.
Martindale purportedly deposited claim checks into his law firm trust account, then subsequently issue a check from that trust account to the claimant. Attorney fees were restricted to $1,500 per claimant for each litigation.
It is alleged that the four sisters entered an agreement with Martindale to divide their fees, apart from additional money they received from the same plaintiffs. Money received from claims is income that must be reported on the claimant’s tax return, but the indictment alleges that the four sisters arranged for the tax preparer to falsify tax returns in order to create a tax refund.
The false tax items allegedly totaled $4,615,009. The indictment alleges that three of the sisters filed false tax returns of their and laundered money through the purchase of several properties, including houses and cars.
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