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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of Arkansas

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Pine Bluff Family Found Guilty in tax Fraud Scheme; Fraudulent Refunds Submitted Totaled More Than $1.7 Million


Little Rock - Christopher R. Thyer,United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas; and Christopher A. Henry, Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge; announced that after a two and one-half week trial, Brenda Laws, age 56, Lareka Laws, age 35, Jameel Laws, age 27, and Milton Laws, Jr., age 32, all of Pine Bluff, were all found guilty on February 13, 2014, of conspiracy to defraud the United States by filing false tax returns.

Brenda Laws was found guilty of filing 249 false tax returns for 249 different people who claimed the Frist Time Home Buyer (FTHB) credits on their 2008 tax return. She was also convicted of aiding her son, Milton, in the filing of his false tax return.

Lareka Laws was convicted of conspiracy and two counts of filing false tax returns. Jameel Laws was convicted of conspiracy and filing his own false tax return. Milton laws, Jr. was convicted of conspiracy and filing his own false tax return with the assistance of his mother, Brenda.

“The blatant abuse of the tax code credit for first time homebuyers by this family for their personal gain and gambling funds is inexcusable,” stated Thyer. “When 56% of all tax returns with the FTHB credit from Jefferson County and 46% of the same FTHB credit returns from Alteimer filed in 2009 were filed from the Laws residence, it didn’t take long for this investigation to begin and end with the Laws. I am grateful for the tedious investigative work of the IRS agents and for the attention the jury gave to the vast amount of evidence during the long trial. Their service to the citizens of Arkansas has brought about the just conviction of a family who thought nothing of stealing from law-abiding taxpayers.”

“At the IRS, protecting taxpayer money is a matter we take extremely serious. An integral part of the agency’s mission involves detecting and catching fraudulent tax refund claims,” stated SAC Henry. “Convictions, like those in this case, send a loud and clear message that individuals who violate our nation’s tax laws will be fully investigated, prosecuted, and subjected to the full punishment of the law for their actions.”

Stephen Barnett and Tenesha Roberts, also indicted in this case, both pled guilty to the conspiracy prior to the trial. Both testified against the Laws at trial.

According to the indictment, all six individuals conspired to defraud the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) by filing 2008 federal income tax returns in their own names and in the names of others without their knowledge to claim refunds they knew they were not entitled to receive. This group of individuals was allegedly responsible for the filing of a total of 251 tax returns which falsely claimed the First-Time Homebuyers Credit. The refund claims totaled more than $1.7 million. Brenda and Lareka Laws created false Forms 5405, the First-Time Homebuyer Credit Form, which contained fabricated addresses and acquisition dates of property that the taxpayer listed did not purchase. These returns were then filed electronically with the IRS.

Milton Laws, Jr. was detained after trial. His pretrial release was revoked December 10, 2013, by United States Magistrate Judge Beth Deere. The Third Motion to Revoke stated that Milton violated the terms of his release by submitting diluted specimens for drug screenings on six separate occasions during 2012. On October 29, 2012, his drug screen tested positive for marijuana. On October 19, 2012, he failed to make payments on citations. On December 12, 2012, his blood alcohol content test revealed a 0.343% blood alcohol level. He failed to appear for required counseling sessions and on March 5, 2013, was terminated from outpatient treatment as a result of his lack of participation in treatment services. He continued to disregard the restrictions put in place by the United States Magistrate Judge resulting in his arrest. All other defendants in the case have remained out on their own recognizance.

Sentencing for all defendants will be set by the Court at a later date.

Each individual faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, a fine of $250,000, or both with not more than 3 years’ supervised release on the conspiracy count. Each false claim count carries a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison, a fine of $250,000, or both with not more than 3 years supervised release.

The investigation was conducted by the Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation Division. First Assistant United States Attorney Pat Harris and Assistant United States Attorney Stephanie Mazzanti have prosecuted this case for the United States.

Updated July 15, 2015