Want to get a check from the government for $50,000? If you’re black and willing to say you once “attempted to farm,” the money could be yours.
Why? In the 80’s and 90’s, some Black farmers were allegedly discriminated against by the Agriculture Department. Department loan officers supposedly did the opposite of what Shirley Sherrod was accused of: they granted government-subsidized farm loans to whites but not to blacks.
Government shouldn’t be giving out government subsidized loans to anyone. But that’s another story for another time.
When some black farmers sued, claiming discrimination, the USDA agreed to pay $50,000 to every black person who was discriminated against.
According to the census, there were 18,000 black farmers in the country when the lawsuit was filed. But 97,000 black “farmers” have applied for the money.
Black farmer Jimmy Dismuke says it’s fraud. He said lawyers went to black churches and told people who had never farmed to file for the money.
“People say well, how do I qualify?” Dismuke told us. “And then [the lawyers] started talking about potted plants. They said if you had a potted plant, you can be a farmer. And if you have a yard and you fertilize it, you're a farmer.”
Just about anyone can say that they “attempted to farm.” And the USDA – which did not keep all its loan records--has no way to refute that. So the taxpayers pay, and pay.
Jimmy’s former lawyer, Othello Cross, helped thousands of people file claims. He told us that, years afterwards, he concluded that some cases were fraudulent. People came up to him in the street and told him:
“Lawyer, you know -- John never farmed in his life. … when I went back and looked at it, it was true.”
Despite the fraud, Congress approved $1billion in payments, and when that ran out, authorized another $1.25 billion dollars. Some victims of discrimination may benefit. But plenty of money will go to freeloaders.
And speaking of freeloaders, lots of money will go to lawyers: In the first round of $1 billion, Cross estimates, about $40 to $50 million was paid out to lawyers. We called the USDA to get an exact number, but spokeswoman Courtney Rowe said she couldn’t say how much had been paid to lawyers – that the Treasury Department had actually issued the checks, and to talk with them. A Treasury Department spokeswoman did not respond to our questions.
The head lawyer on the case is Alexander Pires, who said that what his firm was paid was “very, very modest… about $10 million.”
I don’t think that’s modest. And Pires hasn’t stopped there. He’s also filed suits for Hispanic farmers, American Indian farmers, and women farmers.
I asked him: “Is there any minority that wasn't discriminated against?”
“Not to my knowledge,” he replied.
Tune in to FNC at 10pm tonight for more of my debate with Pires, and the rest of my special on freeloaders.