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A federal lawsuit filed last week in Texarkana accuses a husband and wife of stealing more than $4 million through phony invoices created at a local timberland management company.

Forest Investment Associates filed suit Tuesday in the Texarkana Division of the Eastern District of Texas against April Thompson and James Thompson alleging the couple conspired to defraud FIA's client's through an FIA consultant, Kingwood Forestry Services, since 2011. Kingwood Forestry Services maintains offices in Texarkana, Texas; Monticello, Ark., and Arkadelphia, Ark., according to the company's website. According to FIA's complaint, April Johnson worked in an administrative capacity for Kingwood and her husband, James Thompson, worked as a contractor retained by Kingwood.

"FIA is engaged in the business of providing timberland investment advisory and management services to institutional timberland investors in a variety of locations. FIA retains consultants to provide technical, administrative and field management services to its clients," the complaint states. "The consultants in turn retain contractors to carry out certain field services. The contractor submits its invoices for services rendered to the consultant, who then enters the invoices for payment through FIA's electronic invoice processing system. The invoices are then paid by FIA to the contractors from the applicable client's funds held in bank accounts controlled by FIA."

A representative for Kingwood referred questions to the company's lawyer, Hani Hashem of Monticello, Ark. Hashem could not be reached Friday.

"Because of the pending litigation you referenced in your voicemail, Forest Investment Associates cannot comment on this matter," FIA lawyer Giselle Guerra of Houston said in an email Friday.

The complaint alleges that beginning in 2011, April Thompson and James Thompson prepared phony invoices which billed FIA clients for contractor services James Thompson did not actually perform. FIA alleges that April Johnson monitored clients' accounts so as to avoid attention. She allegedly made sure the phony invoices submitted by her contractor-husband would not trigger review by keeping the amounts stolen from exceeding the annual budget for the target property. James Thompson allegedly claimed he performed work which appeared on paper to be in keeping with a property's timber and forestry management needs.

"Pursuant to the aforesaid scheme, Defendants submitted over $4 million worth of bogus invoices for payment through FIA's electronic invoice processing system. Payments were then mailed to Defendant James Thompson by FIA from the funds of clients who owned the affected property," the complaint states. "Defendant James Thompson did not provide the services described in the invoices sent for payment through FIA's electronic invoice processing system. Defendant April Thompson was aware of the scheme and facilitated the presentation of the fictitious invoices."

FIA's complaint states that it indemnifies its clients, has given them notice of the fraud and will make them whole. FIA is asking for an injunction and temporary restraining order which would require the Thompsons to deposit into the court's registry any money they have which came from the alleged scheme. FIA also wants the court to enjoin the Thompsons from transferring, selling or disposing of any property they acquired with nefariously obtained funds. FIA further seeks court appointment of a receiver to oversee the Thompsons assets and accounts to make certain they remain intact.

A hearing to address the request is scheduled for Thursday before U.S. District Judge Robert Schroeder III in Texarkana's downtown federal building. Court records show April Thompson was served with the complaint and notice of the hearing Friday at an address in Maud, Texas, near Texarkana.

FIA is seeking damages for alleged mail and wire fraud, breach of fiduciary duty by April Thompson, aiding and abetting breach of fiduciary by James Thompson, conspiracy, racketeering and other torts. In addition to actual damages of at least $4 million, FIA is asking for punitive damages and attorney fees.

llarowe@texarkanagazette.com

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