Lawyer pleads guilty in scheme to defraud program intended to benefit farmers subjected to discrimination
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A lawyer in Little Rock, Arkansas, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud Thursday for his involvement in a scheme to file false claims of discrimination in a program intended to benefit farmers.
Everett Martindale, 75, admitted that he failed to investigate claims submitted in two programs created to resolve lawsuits alleging discrimination in farm benefits, according to a Department of Justice press release. Martindale was acting as legal representative for the claimants, and he signed certifications that he had investigated the claims, even though it was untrue.
Those who successfully submitted the false claims received an award of $62,500, $12,500 of which was withheld by the government for taxes. Attorney fees were capped at $1,500. Martindale agreed to keep half of the attorney fees and split the other half with four sisters who recruited claimants. The four sisters also demanded additional money from the claimants.
In reality, the claimants had not suffered discrimination in the farm program. In most cases, they had not even tried to farm.
The scheme resulted in a government loss of more than $11.5 million, according to the DOJ press release.
Prosecutors agreed to seek no more than two years in prison for Martindale and to allow him to ask for probation, according to coverage of the plea hearing by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Martindale pleaded guilty to a count contained in a superseding information. Federal defendants have the right to require prosecutors to obtain an indictment. To be charged in an information signed by a prosecutor, defendants have to waive indictment.
When Chief U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall Jr. of the Eastern District of Arkansas asked Martindale whether he had spoken with his lawyers about waiving the indictment, Martindale appeared unsure, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
“Have we talked about that?” Martindale asked his lawyer.
Martindale’s lawyer spoke softly when he responded, “The indictment waiver.”
Martindale replied, “Oh, yeah,” and he told Marshall he had done so.
Martindale is the last defendant to plead guilty in the scheme.