Appeals court upholds Ash Flat couple’s fraud convictions


LITTLE ROCK — A federal appeals panel Monday upheld he federal conviction of an Ash Flat accountant and his wife who were convicted of bilking several government agencies of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

James Bruce Morris was found guilty in 2011 by a federal jury of 44 counts of fraud and sentenced to four years in prison. His wife, Karen Sue Morris, was convicted of 29 counts and sentenced to two years in prison.

In their appeal, the couple argued that the evidence against them was insufficient and based on honest mistakes on their part, and that it was not enough for a jury to find them guilty.

The three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. District Court of Appeals in St. Louis disagreed in a 12-page decision written by U.S. Appeals Court Judge Bobby Shepherd of Arkansas.

The Morrises were arrested after years of obtaining excessive Social Security benefits, veterans’ benefits and income-tax credits for themselves and unknowing clients, as well as Pell grants to send James Morris’ stepdaughters to college, according to prosecutors.

Shepherd wrote there was sufficient evidence to support the convictions on charges of conspiracy to defraud the government, including testimony that James Morris used a false marital status to aid his wife’s application for federal student aid for her daughters and Morris’ preparation of at least one fraudulent tax return that his wife submitted in support of her application for federal student aid.

The judge said there also was evidence that Karen Morris submitted false representations to the Social Security Administration on behalf of her husband.

“A reasonable juror could conclude from this evidence that appellants knowingly joined in agreements to misrepresent their marital status to support Karen’s application for student aid, and to provide false representations to the SSA regarding James’ s ability to work. This is sufficient to support appellants’ conspiracy conviction,” the opinion said.