What is in this article?:
- Pigford leading class counsel speaks on deadlines, eligibility requirements and fraud allegations.
- Keepseagle case against USDA still open to new claimants.
- 75,000-plus Pigford claimants expected but number will shrink when cases scrutinized.
Can you talk about the charges of fraud (in Pigford) that have come to the surface in the last year, or so? I was talking to legitimate black farmers – guys with their plow in the ground – 10 years ago that said some tricksters were out there trying to jump on the bandwagon. Can you talk about that?
“It’s my opinion – and I’ve dealt with thousands of the farmers and, as you point out, have worked on the case for almost 14 years – these charges of fraud are exaggerated and unfounded.
“When the farmers talk about it, frankly, a lot of it is because of misunderstandings about the case and who may, or may not, be eligible. When others talk about it, I’m not sure what their motivations are.
“Remember, in the Pigford case every claim filed was closely scrutinized by the USDA. If an employee of the USDA thought there was fraud, he was required to report that either to his supervisor or to the USDA’s inspector general.
“Then, the inspector general would look at it and, if there was fraud, refer it to the FBI. I know of only three cases where the FBI took any sort of action to pursue any claims of fraud.”
(Editor’s note: When asked about fraud in the Pigford settlement, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has only cited the same three cases.)
“All these charges floating around now, in my opinion, have no basis.”
Do you think the Pigford II claims will be even more heavily scrutinized this time around because of the (fraud allegations)?
“I don’t know. The legislation passed by Congress requires scrutiny by the inspector general at USDA. It requires the Inspector General do a ‘performance audit.’ It also requires that the Comptroller General of the United States monitor the process.
“So, there may be additional scrutiny in this case. I guess that’s from the USDA’s perspective. What I experienced and saw is the USDA closely scrutinized Pigford I. So, I don’t know if they’ll do more than Pigford I. But, yes, it will be closely scrutinized.”
With potentially 75,000 claimants, is the $1.25 billion a fair number for your clients? Should it have been more?
“Remember, 75,000 sent in some written document that said, in effect, ‘please let me file a claim.’ There will not be 75,000 claims – there will be significantly less.
“And of the claims filed, not all will be approved. We’re not talking about a situation where $1.25 billion will be divided by 75,000 people. It will be substantially less than that.
“The $1.25 billion is roughly enough to cover 18,000 or 20,000 approved claims – something in that range. I certainly hope all the folks get full compensation but that may not be.
“With the numbers we’re talking about, if you were to guess, you’d say ‘it’s probable (the $1.25 billion) won’t be enough.’ Sure, we’d have preferred that there was full funding. But on the other hand, the $1.25 billion proposed by President Obama, I think is very fair.”