Appeals court upholds conviction in Miss. phony reparations case

Published 5:00 pm Friday, September 15, 2006

A federal appeals court has upheld the conviction of a former Georgia man sentenced to six years in prison for defrauding elderly black people by charging them a fee to pursue tax credits and other phony reparations from the U.S. Treasury.

Morris James Sr., president of the Montezuma, Ga.-based National Resource Information Center, was convicted of 23 counts of mail fraud in U.S. District Court in Oxford, Miss., in 2004.

The center claimed to sell information to promote education, growth and success and to help enhance communities. A federal jury found that James and his center defrauded victims of $431,000.

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The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday ruled that there was sufficient evidence to convict James. The 5th Circuit heard arguments in the case in New Orleans on Sept. 7.

Thursday’s ruling was issued by a panel of three 5th Circuit judges: Edith H. Jones, Edward Prado and Thomas M. Reavley.

Federal prosecutors said James appeared before church groups and other organizations and led people to believe they are entitled to money from the U.S. Treasury because of a legal action called the Black Farmers Class Action lawsuit.

He led people to believe they were entitled to refunds of tax payments based on a Black Tax Rebellion, Black Heritage Tax or a Black Inheritance Tax credit, none of which is a legitimate program of the U.S. government, according to the court record.

Prosecutors said several black residents of Mississippi complained to authorities that they paid a James representative to prepare their federal tax returns claiming the black heritage tax credit. No such credit exists.

James has been an agricultural activist and was an unsuccessful candidate for Georgia governor in 1998.