An Arkansas attorney has pleaded guilty to his role in a conspiracy to defraud two U.S. Department of Agriculture programs of about $11.5 million, according to court documents.
Everett Martindale, 75, of Little Rock, pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiracy to commit fraud by acting as attorney for 192 people who filed false claims of discrimination when seeking USDA funds for farming operations, said U.S. Attorney Jonathan Ross.
He faces up to five years in prison, but prosecutors will recommend a two-year sentence and dismiss two similar counts as part of a plea agreement.
The claims were filed by people recruited by sisters Lynda Charles of Hot Springs; Delois Bryant of North Little Rock; Rosie Bryant of Colleyville, Texas; Brenda Sherpell of Gainesville, Texas; tax preparer Jerry Green of Grand Prairie, Texas; and notary public Niki Charles, Lynda Charles' daughter, of Sherwood.
Martindale is the last of the seven to reach a plea agreement in the case. None has been sentenced.
None of the claimants was discriminated against when they sought funds from the Black Farmers Discrimination Litigation settlement and the Hispanic and Women Farmers and Ranchers claim program, according to Ross.
Martindale failed to investigate the claims, despite signing certifications that he had done so, Ross said.
None of the claimants has been named in the indictment and a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Little Rock did not immediately return phone calls Friday for additional comment.
The two programs were created as the results of settlements of a lawsuit by Black farmers and a separate lawsuit by Hispanic and women farmers in which both groups said they were discriminated against when applying for farm credit from the USDA.