Candidate Obama ran on a platform of openness, transparency and accountability in government but when it comes to the Pigford scandal, the USDA and Secretary Tom Vilsack continue a pattern of deception. At issue are accusations of fraud that may amount to hundreds of millions of dollars in a settlement that was supposed to give money to black farmers who suffered years of discrimination from the USDA.
A couple of weeks ago, President Obama signed a multi-billion dollar extension to Pigford amid some criticism from conservatives that there was rampant fraud in Pigford. Vilsack's USDA office issued a press release in the days before Obama signed the extension claiming that the FBI has only found three cases worth prosecuting and giving the impression that there were only a small handul of fraud cases out of over 15,000 paid claims.
The USDA now knows better -- but is still sticking by their claims.
I'm out on the road doing interviews with key people involved in Pigford. The following clip is from a video interview I did with Othello Cross, an attorney for Pigford claimants with about fifteen years of experience on the case. Again, just to make it clear -- this is a attorney representing claimants. He's pro Pigford and has profited from it -- if anything you'd expect him to say he's not aware of any fraud.
He admits that he is personally aware of hundreds of cases of fraud in the state of Arkansas alone. Furthermore, he explains how easy it was to commit that fraud and receive a $50,000 check from the government; it's appropriate to deduce from Cross's revealing statement that the actual number of fraudulent claims is likely much higher than the hundreds he knows about especially since all the fraud he claims to know about was just in the state of Arkansas.
You're about to watch this clip for the first time, but the USDA watched it over a week ago -- I sent it to them for comment about 10 days ago.
After a number of phone calls to the USDA, I was given the response that Secretary Vilsack now acknowledges around ten cases of fraud, up from his original statement that there are only three known cases. If I were inclined to spin the government's response, I'd praise the USDA for finding 300% more instances of fraud in just a few days, but the reality is that the USDA can watch a video where a pro-Pigford claimant lawyer says in no uncertain terms that he knows about hundreds of cases of fraud -- over ten million dollars worth at bare minimum -- and still will only acknowledge ten cases.
There's a lot more to Pigford than just the claims of fraud. The black farmers who were discriminated against were treated unfairly in this case and in addition, there seem to be thousands of African-Americans who were defrauded themselves.by people attempting to profit from the Pigford settlement. I'll continue documenting those other aspects of the story but let's be clear about the fraud charges.
The fraud of Pigford is real. It's tens of millions of dollars, at least. The USDA knows about it. They aren't telling the truth and unfortunately, if we're going to get to the truth it's going to have to come from Republican-led hearings.
President Obama should have gone with Plan A. That transparency and openness thing would have been a lot better for everyone except the Republicans.