LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A woman from England, Arkansas, is the latest person to plead guilty in a multi-million-dollar fraud case targeting a federal farm program.
Niki Charles, 49, pleaded guilty Aug. 2 to conspiracy to commit mail fraud in federal court.
Charles is the daughter of one of four sisters who earlier pleaded guilty in connection with the $11.5 million case. A federal case where four sisters had earlier pleaded guilty to fraud now has a fifth woman from Arkansas pleading guilty.
The group is charged with fraud in filing false claims with the Department of Agriculture.
Charles admitted in her pleading that she and others would solicit people to file false claims asserting they were discriminated against when they tried to get assistance from USDA for their farming operations. She also admitted that during the claims process she would submit affidavits supporting the discrimination claims without meeting with the witnesses.
Charles’s actions resulted in a $4.5 million loss, which she agreed to repay in her pleading.
Four sisters, 72-year-old Lynda Charles of Hot Springs, Niki Charles’s mother; 74-year-old Rosie Bryant of Colleyville, Texas; 75-year-old Delois Bryant of North Little Rock; and 72-year-old Brenda Sherpell of Gainesville, Texas, pleaded guilty July 6 to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and to defraud the Internal Revenue Service.
A sixth defendant, Everett Martindale, worked as an attorney and acted as the legal representative for most of the claimants that the women recruited. Martindale is set for trial on Aug. 30.
A tax prepared, Jerry Green, falsified tax returns by not reporting over $4.6 million in connection with the case. He pleaded guilty Jan. 2021.
The $11.5 million was money that had been intended to benefit farmers who had been discriminated against as part of a program from the United States Department of Agriculture. The four sisters admitted in court that, from 2008 through 2017 they solicited people to file false claims of discrimination when they applied for USDA assistance for their farming operation.
The four sisters would allegedly split the $1,500 attorney fee with Martindale, then demand additional money from claimants. Three of the sisters did not, the justice department states, declare the money as income. The money would be used to purchase homes and cars.
Sentencing for Charles and the four sisters will take place at a later date.