Four members of a Pine Bluff family were found guilty last week of conspiracy to defraud the government by filing false income tax returns.

Four members of a Pine Bluff family were found guilty last week of conspiracy to defraud the government by filing false income tax returns.


Brenda Laws, 56; Lareka Laws, 35; Jameel Laws, 27; and Milton Laws Jr., 32; were convicted after a trial that lasted almost three weeks in Little Rock. They will be sentenced after a pre-sentencing investigation is conducted. They could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison on the conspiracy count, and a maximum of five years in prison on each count of fling a false claim, as well as fines of $250,000 on each charge, plus no more than three years’ supervised release.


Two other people — Teneshia Roberts, 30, of Pine Bluff and Steven Barnett Jr., 26, of Altheimer — both pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges before the trial and testified for the government.


According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Brenda Laws was found guilty of filing 249 false income tax returns for 249 different people who claimed the First Time Home Buyer credit on their 2008 tax returns. She also was convicted of aiding her son, Milton, in filing his own false tax return. Lareka Laws was convicted of conspiracy and two counts of filing false tax returns. Jameel Laws was convicted of conspiracy to file 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 home buyers by this family for their personal gain and gambling funds is inexcusable," U.S. Attorney Christopher Thyer said in a press release. "When 56 percent of all tax returns with the FHTB credit from Jefferson County and 46 percent of the same FHTB credit returns from Altheimer 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 vast amounts of evidence during this long trial. Their service to the citizens of Arkansas has brought about the conviction of a family who thought nothing of stealing from law-abiding citizens.


According to the indictment, all six individuals conspired to defraud the Internal Revenue Service by filing 2008 federal income tax returns in their own names and in the names of others without their knowledge to claim refunds they were not entitled to. The group was allegedly responsible for filing a total of 251 tax returns which falsely claimed a First Time Home Buyers credit. The refunds totaled more than $1.3 million.


Also according to the indictment, Brenda Laws and Lareka Laws created false federal forms for the credit that contained fabricated addresses and acquisition dates of property that the taxpayer listed did not buy. Those returns were filed electronically with the IRS. Lareka Laws was a tax preparer for Jackson-Hewitt, while Brenda Laws had no prior formal training, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.


"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," said IRS investigator Christopher A. Henry.


Milton Laws Jr. was detained after the trial after his pre-trial release was revoked in December. Laws allegedly violated conditions of his pre-trial release, including submitting diluted specimens for drug screens on six separate occasions during 2012, failing to make payments on citations, failing to appear for required counseling sessions and being dropped from an outpatient treatment program.


All the other defendants in the case are free on their own recognizance until sentencing.