Pigford: the unexamined Obama administration scandal— Part 7 of 7

Pigford: the unexamined Obama administration scandal—

Part 7 of 7

The underreported scandal referenced is generally identified as “Pigford.”  Pigford’s germination occurred in 1997 as a lawsuit (Pigford vs. Glickman) alleging that 91 African-American farmers were unfairly denied loans by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) due to racial discrimination which prevented the complainants from farming.  In 1999, the black farmers won their case.

‘Divine Intervention’: Judge Robertson had refused to certify either group as a class. The United States Court of Appeals had upheld him, stating in 2006 that the Hispanic plaintiffs had been denied loans “for a variety of reasons, including inadequate farm plans and lack of funds.” Nor had female farmers proved a pattern of bias, the court found.

The Justice Department’s lawyers had definitively ruled out any group-style settlement. “Some of these folks have never made a loan payment in their entire history with U.S.D.A.,” Lisa A. Olson, the lead government litigator against the 81 Hispanic plaintiffs, told Judge Robertson in August 2009. “There may even be folks who are under criminal investigation.”

In a letter to Mr. Obama in June 2009, the senators noted that black farmers stood to receive $2.25 billion in compensation, but that Hispanic farmers, who alleged the same kind of discrimination, had gotten nothing. Should that continue, Mr. Menendez wrote that September, “Hispanic farmers and ranchers, and their supporters, will be reaching out to community and industry leaders outside of the Beltway in order to bring wider attention to this problem.”

The decision to compensate potentially tens of thousands of Hispanics and women out of the Judgment Fund averted what was likely to be an uphill struggle with Congress. Nearly a year after the White House had asked for money to compensate the second wave of African-American farmers, Congress was still sitting on its hands. But there was sharp disagreement within the government over whether the claims from Hispanics and women met the Judgment Fund’s “imminent litigation” test.

On the one hand, it was possible that absent a settlement, some people now filing administrative claims might have sued. Judge Robertson was expected to allow new plaintiffs for several more months. Although only 10 women had sued, their lawyers had obtained affidavits alleging discrimination from 2,000 others. Attorneys for the 81 Hispanic farmers also raised the vague specter of tens of thousands of plaintiffs. While one major category of claimants — those who said their loan applications had been unfairly denied — remained eligible for payments of up to $50,000 without any documentation, others were required to produce written evidence that they had complained of bias at the time. The Hispanic plaintiffs were indignant.

The Agriculture Department instructed processors to call about 16,000 people to remind them that time was running out, despite internal disquiet that the government was almost recruiting claims against itself. The deadline was then extended to May 1.

So far, about 1,900 Hispanics and 24,000 women have sought compensation, many in states where middlemen have built a cottage industry, promising to help win payouts for a fee.

Last October, a court-appointed ombudsman wrote that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people had given money to individuals and organizations in the belief that they were reserving the right to file a claim under the second settlement for black farmers, only to learn later that their names had never been forwarded to the authorities. People familiar with that statement said it was directed in part at Thomas Burrell, a charismatic orator and the head of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association, based in Memphis.

Mr. Burrell has traveled the South for years, exhorting black audiences in auditoriums and church halls to file discrimination complaints with his organization’s help, in exchange for a $100 annual membership fee.

On a recent Thursday at the Greater Second Baptist Church in Little Rock, several hundred African-Americans listened intently as Mr. Burrell told them they could reap $50,000 each, merely by claiming bias. He left out the fact that black men are no longer eligible, and that black women are eligible only if they suffered gender, not racial, bias.

“The Department of Agriculture admitted that it discriminated against every black person who walked into their offices,” he told the crowd. “They said we discriminated against them, but we didn’t keep a record. Hello? You don’t have to prove it.

source–alan wiseman, judge robertson, lisa olson, daniel meltzer, thomas burrell,

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Pigford: the unexamined Obama administration sc Part 6 of 7

Pigford: the unexamined Obama administration sc

Part 6 of  7

The underreported scandal referenced is generally identified as “Pigford.”  Pigford’s germination occurred in 1997 as a lawsuit (Pigford vs. Glickman) alleging that 91 African-American farmers were unfairly denied loans by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) due to racial discrimination which prevented the complainants from farming.  In 1999, the black farmers won their case.

Lawmakers Turn Up the Heat; Some 66,000 claims poured in after the 1999 deadline. Noting that the government had given “extensive” notice, Judge Friedman ruled the door closed to late filers. “That is simply how class actions work,” he wrote. But it was not how politics worked. The next nine years brought a concerted effort to allow the late filers to seek awards

President George W. Bush was unreceptive to farmers’ repeated protests. But Congress was not: legislators from both parties, including Mr. Obama as a senator in 2007, sponsored bills to grant the late filers relief.

Mr. Boyd said Mr. Obama’s support led him to throw the backing of his 109,000-member black farmers’ association behind the Obama presidential primary campaign. Hilary Shelton, the N.A.A.C.P.’s chief lobbyist, said Mr. Obama’s stance helped establish him as a defender of the concerns of rural African-American communities.

Mr. King said, “Never underestimate the fear of being called a racist.”

Congress finally inserted a provision in the 2008 farm bill allowing late filers to bring new lawsuits, with their claims to be decided by the same standard of evidence as before. The bill also declared a sense of Congress that minority farmers’ bias claims and lawsuits should be quickly and justly resolved.

Congress overrode a veto by Mr. Bush, who objected to other provisions in the bill. But as Mr. Bush left Washington, Congress had appropriated only $100 million for compensation, hardly enough to pay for processing claims. Within months of taking office, President Obama promised to seek an additional $1.15 billion. In November 2010, Congress approved the funds. To protect against fraud, legislators ordered the Government Accountability Office and the Agriculture Department’s inspector general to audit the payment process.

But simultaneously, the Agriculture Department abandoned the costly and burdensome review process it had applied to earlier claims. As a result, according to internal government memos, the percentage of successful claims is expected to exceed that in the original 1999 settlement. More than 40,000 claims have been filed and are under review.

Few Claims, Big Payout: The Obama administration’s efforts to compensate African-American farmers intensified pressure from members of Congress and lobbyists to settle those cases as well. The Native-American case was clearly problematic for the government. The federal judge overseeing the case, Emmet G. Sullivan, had already certified the plaintiffs as a class, although only to seek changes in government practices and policies. He postponed a decision on whether they could seek monetary damages as a class.

Depositions had revealed many of the individual farmers’ complaints to be shaky. And federal judges had already scornfully rejected the methodology of the plaintiffs’ expert, a former Agriculture Department official named Patrick O’Brien, in the women’s case. University of California, Berkeley, had produced a 340-page report stating that Mr. O’Brien’s conclusions were based “in a counter-factual world” and that Native Americans had generally fared as well as white male farmers.

Professor Rausser was astounded when, with both sides gearing up for trial in late 2009, the government began settlement negotiations. “If they had gone to trial, the government would have prevailed,” he said. “It was just a joke,” he added. “I was so disgusted. It was simply buying the support of the Native-Americans.”

Agriculture officials predicted that only 5,300 Native Americans were likely to file claims. The plaintiffs’ lawyers, whose fees were to be based on a percentage of the settlement, estimated up to 19,000 claims. Only 4,400 people filed claims, with 3,600 winning compensation at a cost of roughly $300 million. That left $460 million unspent — of which roughly $400 million under the terms of the settlement must be given to nonprofit groups that aid Native American farmers.

The remaining $60.8 million will go to the plaintiffs’ lawyers, led by the Washington firm Cohen, Milstein, Sellers & Toll. In court papers, the firm argued that the size of the payment was justified partly by the fact that the settlement nearly equaled the maximum estimate of economic damages. Joseph M. Sellers, the lead counsel, acknowledged the unspent amount was unexpectedly big. But “absent a court order,” he said, “we don’t intend to return it.

source: judge friedman, hilary shelton, naacp, 2008 farm bill, rose racine, gordon rausser, univ berkley, joseph seller.

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Pigford: the unexamined Obama administration scandal— Part 5 of 7

Pigford: the unexamined Obama administration scandal—

Part 5 of  7

The underreported scandal referenced is generally identified as “Pigford.”  Pigford’s germination occurred in 1997 as a lawsuit (Pigford vs. Glickman) alleging that 91 African-American farmers were unfairly denied loans by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) due to racial discrimination which prevented the complainants from farming.  In 1999, the black farmers won their case.

‘It Just Went Wild’: Delton Wright, a Pine Bluff justice of the peace, recalled what happened after word of the settlement reached his impoverished region: “It just went wild. Some people took the money who didn’t even have a garden in the ground.” He added, “They didn’t make it hard at all, and that’s why people jumped on it.”

Mr. Wright, whose family owns farmland outside Pine Bluff, won his claim. So did two other applicants whose claims were virtually identical to his, with the same rounded handwriting, the same accusations of bias and similar descriptions of damages suffered.

But Mr. Cross, the Pine Bluff lawyer, has his suspicions. “It got out of control,” said Mr. Cross, adding that he had filed about 1,500 claims, including Mr. Wright’s and the apparent duplicates. He estimated that up to 15 percent of Arkansas claims were fraudulent. Claimants described how, at packed meetings, lawyers’ aides would fill out forms for them on the spot, sometimes supplying answers “to keep the line moving,” as one put it.

Even his own staff was complicit, Mr. Cross said; he discovered that four employees had been slipping unverified claims into stacks of papers that he signed. He did not inform the court monitor, he said, because “the damage was done.” A 300-member team from the Farm Service Agency reviewed claims before adjudicators rendered their final decisions. In recent interviews, 15 current and former Agriculture Department employees who reviewed or responded to claims said the loose conditions for payment had opened the floodgates to fraud.

“It was the craziest thing I have ever seen,” one former high-ranking department official said. “We had applications for kids who were 4 or 5 years old. We had cases where every single member of the family applied.” The official added, “You couldn’t have designed it worse if you had tried.”

Accusations of unfair treatment could be checked against department files if claimants had previously received loans. But four-fifths of successful claimants had never done so. For them, “there was no way to refute what they said,” said Sandy Grammer, a former program analyst from Indiana who reviewed claims for three years. “Basically, it was a rip-off of the American taxpayers.”

The true dimensions of the problem are impossible to gauge. The Agriculture Department insists that the names and addresses of claimants are protected under privacy provisions. But department data released in response to a Freedom of Information request by The Times are telling. The data cover 15,601 African-Americans who filed successful claims and were paid before 2009.

Agriculture Department reviewers found many suspicious claims for compensation, some from nursery-school-age children.  In 16 ZIP codes in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and North Carolina, the number of successful claimants exceeded the total number of farms operated by people of any race in 1997, the year the lawsuit was filed. Those applicants received nearly $100 million.

In Maple Hill, a struggling town in southeastern North Carolina, the number of people paid was nearly four times the total number of farms. More than one in nine African-American adults there received checks. In Little Rock, Ark., a confidential list of payments shows, 10 members of one extended family collected a total of $500,000, and dozens of other successful claimants shared addresses, phone numbers or close family connections.

Thirty percent of all payments, totaling $290 million, went to predominantly urban counties — a phenomenon that supporters of the settlement say reflects black farmers’ migration during the 15 years covered by the lawsuit. Only 11 percent, or $107 million, went to what the Agriculture Department classifies as “completely rural” counties.

A fraud hot line to the Agriculture Department’s inspector general rang off the hook. The office referred 503 cases involving 2,089 individuals to the F.B.I. The F.B.I. opened 60 criminal investigations, a spokesman said, but prosecutors abandoned all but a few for reasons including a lack of evidence or proof of criminal intent. Former federal officials said the bar for a successful claim was so low that it was almost impossible to show criminality.

source: delton wright, othello cross, carl bond, paula casey,

Pigford: the unexamined Obama administration scandal— Part 4 of 7

Pigford: the unexamined Obama administration scandal—

Part 4 of  7

The underreported scandal referenced is generally identified as “Pigford.”  Pigford’s germination occurred in 1997 as a lawsuit (Pigford vs. Glickman) alleging that 91 African-American farmers were unfairly denied loans by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) due to racial discrimination which prevented the complainants from farming.  In 1999, the black farmers won their case.

Farmers Claim Discrimination: The original lawsuit, Pigford v. Glickman, filed in federal court in Washington in August 1997, argued that the Agriculture Department’s credit bureau, now called the Farm Service Agency, routinely denied or limited loans to black farmers while freely distributing them to whites.

Two government reports that year found no evidence of ongoing, systemic discrimination. The Government Accountability Office reported that 16 percent of minority farmers were denied loans, compared with 10 percent of white farmers, but traced the difference to objective factors like bad credit. An Agriculture Department study also found “no consistent picture of disparity” over the previous two years.

Black farmers gave heart-rending accounts of loan officers who withheld promised money while crops withered, who repossessed their land and sold it to white cronies, who advised them to milk cows for white farmers rather than sow their own crops. John W. Boyd Jr., a Virginia farmer who leads the National Black Farmers Association, was among those who pressed President Bill Clinton to settle the case. At a White House meeting in December 1997, Mr. Boyd said, he recounted how a loan officer denied him $7,500 and then handed a $150,000 check to a white farmer who had not even filled out an application.

Mr. Clinton asked Carol Willis, then a senior adviser to the Democratic National Committee who was known for his expertise in black voter turnout, to get involved. Mr. Willis said the president wanted to make sure his home state, Arkansas, benefited. Mr. Willis said he recruited Othello Cross, a Pine Bluff lawyer, to join the plaintiffs’ legal team.

He initially limited the class of potential claimants to African-Americans who had farmed between 1981 and 1996 and had previously filed written discrimination complaints. But his final order significantly expanded the class, admitting those who had only “attempted to farm.” And it threw out the requirement for a written bias complaint, stating that an oral complaint was sufficient if someone other than a family member attested to it in an affidavit.

The billion-dollar settlement, the judge’s opinion said, was designed to provide “those class members with little or no documentary evidence with a virtually automatic cash payment of $50,000.” Those with documentary proof could seek higher awards, a tack ultimately chosen by fewer than 1 percent of applicants.

Justice Department lawyers worried about false claims. But the lawyer familiar with the Clinton administration’s stance said they had decided that “it was better to err on the side of giving money to people who might not qualify if they went through litigation than to deny money to people who actually deserve it.”

John C. Coffee Jr., a Columbia Law School professor and specialist in complex litigation, said that not requiring documentary evidence “was quite unusual, but there were also special circumstances.” Still, he said, “I don’t think they realized how much of an incentive they were creating for claims to multiply. It is a little bit like putting out milk for a kitten. “The next night, you get 15 kittens.”

source—john boyd, paul friedman, othello cross, carol willis,john c coffee jr,

 

 

 

Pigford: the unexamined Obama administration scandal— Part 3 of 7

Pigford: the unexamined Obama administration scandal—

Part 3 of 7

The underreported scandal referenced is generally identified as “Pigford.”  Pigford’s germination occurred in 1997 as a lawsuit (Pigford vs. Glickman) alleging that 91 African-American farmers were unfairly denied loans by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) due to racial discrimination which prevented the complainants from farming.  In 1999, the black farmers won their case.

U.S. Opens Spigot After Farmers Claim Discrimination: In the winter of 2010, after a decade of defending the government against bias claims by Hispanic and female farmers, Justice Department lawyers seemed to have victory within their grasp.

Ever since the Clinton administration agreed in 1999 to make $50,000 payments to thousands of black farmers, the Hispanics and women had been clamoring in courtrooms and in Congress for the same deal. They argued, as the African-Americans had, that biased federal loan officers had systematically thwarted their attempts to borrow money to farm.

But a succession of courts — and finally the Supreme Court — had rebuffed their pleas. Instead of an army of potential claimants, the government faced just 91 plaintiffs. Those cases, the government lawyers figured, could be dispatched at limited cost.

They were wrong.  On the heels of the Supreme Court’s ruling, interviews and records show, the Obama administration’s political appointees at the Justice and Agriculture Departments engineered a stunning turnabout: they committed $1.33 billion to compensate not just the 91 plaintiffs but thousands of Hispanic and female farmers who had never claimed bias in court.

The compensation effort sprang from a desire to redress what the government and a federal judge agreed was a painful legacy of bias against African-Americans by the Agriculture Department. But an examination by The New York Times shows that it became a runaway train, driven by racial politics, pressure from influential members of Congress and law firms that stand to gain more than $130 million in fees. In the past five years, it has grown to encompass a second group of African-Americans as well as Hispanic, female and Native American farmers. In all, more than 90,000 people have filed claims. The total cost could top $4.4 billion.

From the start, the claims process prompted allegations of widespread fraud and criticism that its very design encouraged people to lie: because relatively few records remained to verify accusations, claimants were not required to present documentary evidence that they had been unfairly treated or had even tried to farm. Agriculture Department reviewers found reams of suspicious claims, from nursery-school-age children and pockets of urban dwellers, sometimes in the same handwriting with nearly identical accounts of discrimination. Even now people who say they were unfairly denied loans can collect up to $50,000 with little documentation.

September 2009, Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, a leading Hispanic Democrat, threatened to mount a campaign “outside the Beltway” if Hispanic farmers were not compensated. Some officials argued that tapping the fund for the farmers set a bad precedent, since most had arguably never contemplated suing and might not have won if they had.

“The fund is not politically accessible, it is only legally accessible,” said David Aufhauser, the Treasury Department’s general counsel from 2001 to 2003. “Otherwise, it is a license to raid the till.” A 2010 settlement with Native Americans was contentious for its own reasons. Justice Department lawyers argued that the $760 million agreement far outstripped the potential cost of a defeat in court. Agriculture officials said not that many farmers would file claims.

That prediction proved prophetic. Only $300 million in claims were filed, leaving nearly $400 million in the control of plaintiffs’ lawyers to be distributed among a handful of nonprofit organizations serving Native American farmers. Two and a half years later, the groups have yet to be chosen. It is unclear how many even exist.

The Times’s examination was based on thousands of pages of court and confidential government documents, as well as interviews with dozens of claimants, lawyers, former and current government officials and others involved in the cases over the past 14 years. Many officials spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing rules against disclosing internal government deliberations and, in a few cases, the desire not to be drawn into a racially charged controversy.

In an interview, he said the payments had been fully justified and carefully controlled. Fraud has been a “really, really small part of it,” he added, pointing out that so far, three of every 10 claims had been rejected and only three claimants had been convicted of fraud. Acting Associate Attorney General Tony West, who supervised the civil division and oversaw the handling of the cases, canceled an interview. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. also declined to comment.

They also said the attorney general had broad discretion to settle litigation. “It was a priority for the administration to resolve the long-standing discrimination cases,” a senior official said, and give “farmers who believed they had been discriminated against a chance to seek redress.” Career Justice Department lawyers, who participated in that interview, declined to answer when asked if they favored the outcome of their cases, saying their advice is confidential by law. But critics, including some of the original black plaintiffs, say that is precisely what the government did when it first agreed to compensate not only those who had proof of bias, but those who had none.

source–sharon lafraniere, mike kelly, robert menendez, david aufhauser, tony west, abraham carpenter jr,

Pigford: the unexamined Obama administration scandal— part 2 of 7

Pigford: the unexamined Obama administration scandal—

part 2 of 7

The underreported scandal referenced is generally identified as “Pigford.”  Pigford’s germination occurred in 1997 as a lawsuit (Pigford vs. Glickman) alleging that 91 African-American farmers were unfairly denied loans by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) due to racial discrimination which prevented the complainants from farming.  In 1999, the black farmers won their case.

Judgment Fund: It is administered by the Judgment Fund Branch, which is a part of the United States Department of the Treasury, Bureau of the Fiscal Service. The Judgment Fund Internet Claims System (JFICS) is the application used to process all Judgment Fund claims. The Judgment Fund is a permanent, indefinite appropriation available to pay judicially and administratively ordered monetary awards against the United States. The Judgment Fund is also available to pay amounts owed under compromise agreements negotiated by the U.S. Department of Justice in settlement of claims arising under actual or imminent litigation, if a judgment on the merits would be payable from the Judgment Fund. The statutory authority for the Judgment Fund is 31 U.S.C. 1304.

Amounts paid vary significantly from year-to-year. Federal agencies are not required to reimburse the Judgment Fund except when cases are filed under the Contract Disputes Act (CDA) or the No FEAR Act (Notification and Federal Employee Antidiscrimination and Retaliation Act).

Vilsack and Holder Announce ‘Pigford II’ USDA Settlement with Black Farmers; USDA Press Release No. 0072.10 Contact: USDA Office of Communications (202)720-4623; U.S. Dept of Justice Office of Communications (202) 514-2007 USDA AND DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE ANNOUNCE HISTORIC SETTLEMENT IN LAWSUIT BY BLACK FARMERS CLAIMING DISCRIMINATION BY USDA AUDIO: Media Briefing WASHINGTON, Feb. 18, 2010 – U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced the successful resolution of the longstanding litigation known as Pigford II. The settlement agreement reached today, which is contingent on appropriation by Congress, will provide a total of $1.25 billion to African American farmers who alleged that they suffered racial discrimination in USDA farm loan programs. The settlement sets up a non-judicial claims process through which individual farmers may demonstrate their entitlement to cash damages awards and debt relief.

“Because this Administration firmly believed that a full and final class-wide settlement was possible, the Administration requested $1.15 billion in the 2010 budget, on top of the $100 million already provided by Congress, to facilitate a settlement. I now urge Congress to provide the funding necessary to ensure that that these farmers and USDA can close this sad chapter and move on. . “As I testified before Congress during my confirmation hearings last year, the USDA under the Obama Administration has made civil rights a top priority, which is why we are working to implement a comprehensive program to take definitive action to move USDA into a new era as a model employer and premier service provider.” Attorney General Eric Holder: “Bringing this litigation to a close has been a priority for this Administration. With the settlement announced today, USDA and the African American farmers who brought this litigation can move on to focus on their future.

 

” In 1999, the USDA entered into a consent agreement with black farmers in which the agency agreed to pay farmers for past discrimination in lending and other USDA programs. Thousands of claims have been adjudicated, but thousands of other claims were not considered on their merits because the affected farmers submitted their claims after the settlement claims deadline. To address the remaining claims, Congress provided these farmers another avenue for restitution in the 2008 Farm Bill by providing a right to file a claim in federal court.

Claimants who establish their credit-related claims will be entitled to receive up to $50,000 and debt relief. A separate track may provide actual damages of up to $250,000 through a more rigorous process. The actual value of awards may be reduced based on the total amount of funds made available and the number of successful claims. A moratorium on foreclosures of most claimants’ farms will be in place until after claimants have gone through the claims process or the Secretary is notified that a claim has been denied.The claims process agreed to by the parties may provide payments to successful claimants beginning in the middle fo 2011.

For the first time since 1997, USDA now has investigators on staff to do the field work needed to investigate complaints. * After a competitive bidding process, USDA has hired outside, private firm to do an independent external analysis of the department’s service delivery programs to identify problem areas and fixes. The firm will consider programs at USDA to identify barriers to equal and fair access for all USDA customers. * In April, USDA suspended all foreclosures in the Farm Service Agency’s loan program for 90 days to provide an opportunity to review loans that could have been related to discriminatory conduct.

The department is also establishing a congressionally mandated Ombudsman office to improve dispute resolution efforts.

 

source–judgement fund branch, JFICS, CDA, Fear act, usda, eric holder, vilsack, jom o’sullivan, mainstream media, pigford vs glickman, senator obama, thomas vilsack, eric holder, steve king, andrew breitbart, nyt, shirley sherrod, al pires,

Pigford: the unexamined Obama administration scandal–part 1 of 7

Pigford: the unexamined Obama administration scandal—15gh.,b26

Just what is the “PIGFORD” scandal—–another hidden Obama and the media cover-up!!

part 1 of 7

The underreported scandal referenced is generally identified as “Pigford.”  Pigford’s germination occurred in 1997 as a lawsuit (Pigford vs. Glickman) alleging that 91 African-American farmers were unfairly denied loans by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) due to racial discrimination which prevented the complainants from farming.  In 1999, the black farmers won their case.

Pigford has the distinction of being an out-of-control waste of taxpayer funds and/or a cynical attempt by the Obama administration to curry favor with certain minority groups  to which neither President Obama nor Attorney General Eric Holder can plead ignorance of involvement.  Both have had knowledge since the court ruled on the Pigford lawsuit; in 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama supported and voted for the funding of the initial settlement.  Since then, Eric Holder (and Obama) have been involved in overseeing and managing the Pigford  “judgment fund.”

Yet can Pigford be fairly described as a scandal?

Pigford began innocently enough: as a lawsuit to redress a perceived wrong against a group of 91.  But then the number climbed to 400….then 1,600…then…

The number of black farmers has metastasized — nay, exploded — and the aggrieved group now includes not only blacks, but Hispanics, Native Americans, and females.  In fact over 90,000 people have filed claims seeking a payment under the terms of the original Pigford court ruling.  That decision, now referred to as Pigford #1, was anticipated to cost approximately $120 million, including legal fees.

The judgment fund announced by Agricultural Secretary Thomas Vilsack and Eric Holder in 2010 was expanded from just over $120 million to $1.25 billion, given the expectation of many more filers. However, the explosion of claimants has caused payouts to reach $4.4 billion and has swelled legal fees to over $130 million. 

Essentially, the process encouraged people to lie and spawned a cottage industry.  Claimants had only to file applications for a $50,000 payment by stating that they had  “thought about” applying for loans to become a farmer.  Proof of a claimant’s intent to farm also included a statement from that petitioner saying he or she had attempted to farm by planting a batch of tomatoes in his or her backyard and having that statement verified by a family member.  In essence, the need to be a farmer at the time of the alleged discriminatory actions by the USDA was not a requirement to share in the financial redress.   

Fraud was endemic to the claims process — for example, every apartment in a New York City building received a settlement of at least $50,000.  Further, some families received checks of $50,000 for each family member (see the NYT’s fraud identification narrative of 4-26-13).  These payments were dispensed by the judgment fund’s monitor, whose management and control fell to the Executive Branch and Justice Department.  Due to the application vetting process, the payouts were criticized by both Representative Steve King (D-IA) and journalist Andrew Breitbart as payoffs to Obama’s/Democrats’ preferred groups to gain a favored political position with those entities. 

  • A review of the Shirley Sherrod incident/resignation that became an embarrassing chapter in the Obama administration and might have brought into question the fairness of the payout her family received from Pigford which was rumored to total in the millions. TIME magazine also reported that the Sherrods’ received compensation of approximately $330,000 for mental suffering after it was determined that Ms. Sherrod did not use racist tactics in dealing with white farmers, a charge that led to her resignation from the USDA.
  • The NY Times‘ article disclosing that in 16 ZIP codes in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, and North Carolina, the number of successful Pigford claims exceeded the total number of farms that existed in 1997.
  • The possible resurrection of a contentious conversation on the redistribution of wealth by whatever means to correct previous wrongs for certain minorities à la the Van Jones reparations argument.
  • The blatantly racially charged comments similar to those of Mr. Al Pires, a lead attorney for African-American Pigford farmers, who asserted that the USDA was “the biggest racist the world has ever seen.”
  • source–jom o’sullivan, mainstream media, pigford vs glickman, senator obama, thomas vilsack, eric holder, steve king, andrew breitbart, nyt, shirley sherrod, al pires,