It looks like the criminal trial involving four sisters in their 70s who are accused of defrauding the federal government is going to be a big one.
The 115-count, seven-defendant, white-collar case is set for trial in Little Rock on Jan. 25 in front of U.S. District Chief Judge D.P. Marshall Jr.
“The United States anticipates that it will call more than 200 witnesses at trial not including custodial witnesses for documents,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Cameron McCree wrote in a court filing last week involving the scheduling order for the case, which is being prosecuted by the office of Cody Hiland, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas.
The government also said that it needs to make the “travel arrangements for the hundreds of witnesses who will be called to testify.”
If you recall, a federal grand jury in Arkansas last year charged four sisters — Lynda Charles, Rosie Bryant, Delois Bryant and Brenda Sherpell — with cheating the U.S. Department of Agriculture out of millions of dollars intended for minority farmers who had suffered discrimination in USDA programs.
The sisters each received $2.2 million from a fraud scheme that lasted nearly a decade, the indictment said.
Also charged in the case were Lynda Charles’ daughter, Niki Charles; Little Rock attorney Everett Martindale; and Jerry Green, a tax preparer who had an office in North Little Rock.
The four sisters and Niki Charles are accused of recruiting nearly 200 people to file fraudulent claims with the USDA for discrimination in farm lending programs in the 1980s and 1990s and collecting fees from the beneficiaries, most of whom were never even farmers, according to prosecutors.
Martindale acted as the legal representative for most of the claimants that the five women recruited, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office. And the indictment alleges that Green filed false tax returns for some of the claimants.
A total of 115 counts were filed against the seven defendants, although not every count applies to each defendant. The charges include mail fraud, money laundering, tax evasion, false tax returns and conspiracy to defraud the IRS.