U.S. Attorney Cody Hiland has announced charges against seven people in a scheme that defrauded $11.5 million from a program meant to compensate black, Hispanic and female farmers who’d been victims of discrimination.
The government news release said four sisters, one of their daughters and a lawyer participated in a scheme to file false claims. Also, a tax preparer allegedly filed false tax returns, resulting in a failure to report more than $4 million in income.
The four sisters are Lynda Charles, Rosie Bryant, Delois Bryant, and Brenda Sherpell. Linda Charles’ daughter, Niki Charles, also was charged, along with lawyer Everett Martindale.
A fund was established after a class action lawsuit to pay claims to farmers who were victims of discrimination. Said the release:
A successful claim resulted in an award of $62,500. Of that, $50,000 would be made payable to the claimant, and $12,500 would be transferred directly to the Internal Revenue Service as a tax withholding. The indictment alleges that 192 claims were made, almost all of which were successful, resulting in a loss of over $11.5 million. The indictment alleges that the 192 claims were false because the claimants had not suffered discrimination and, in most cases, had not even attempted to farm.
The indictment alleges that Martindale would deposit claim checks into his law firm trust account, issue a check from that trust account to the claimant, and withhold his attorney fee. For both BFDL [for black farmers] and HWFR [for Hispanic and women farmers], attorney fees were restricted to $1,500 per claimant. The indictment alleges that the four sisters entered an agreement with Martindale in which they would split the attorney fee. The sisters also demanded and received additional money from the claimants themselves.
The money received from a claim was income that should have been reported on the claimant’s tax return. The indictment alleges that the four sisters arranged for defendant Jerry Green to provide tax preparation services for the claimants they had recruited. The indictment further alleges that Green falsified the tax returns in order to create a tax refund. The conspiracy resulted in false tax items totaling $4,615,009.
According to the indictment, three of the sisters—Lynda Charles, Rosie Bryant, and Delois Bryant—filed false tax returns of their own and laundered money through purchases of numerous homes and properties, a Chevrolet van, and a Mercedes G550. The indictment also alleges that they laundered money through cashier’s checks and payments on a student loan for Charles’ daughter.
In October, the United States government filed a civil case to forfeit several properties that were purchased using money traceable to the crimes charged in this indictment.