“Why is it that the only people who got paid in the Black farmers’ lawsuit against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) are the White monitor, the White lead counsel, the White judge, the White arbitrators; the Black lawyers didn’t get paid and the Black farmers didn’t get paid?”
We raised this question to Attorney Randi Roth, the Pigford v. Glickman lawsuit monitor, at the Congressional Black Caucus issues forum in September of this year. This question sparked a verbal “tit for tat” between Al Pires, the lead counsel for Pigford v. Glickman lawsuit and myself.
Since that time we have found out these facts: According to the court record Al Pires, lead counsel, has received at least $14.9 million. Mr. Gary Grant, the president of BFAA, said that the USDA admits to spending $60 million to fight the case trying to deny Black farmers their settlements.
We recently questioned lawyers from the monitor’s office at a “Strategies for Success” conference at Ft. Valley State University on Nov. 6, 2002. Stephen Carpenter, senior counsel for the monitor’s office, said that they have been paid about $15 million thus far. When a farmer is denied in the lawsuit, he can appeal to the monitor’s office. However, all the monitor can do is to recommend that the adjudicator review the decision made. The monitor cannot reverse any decisions by the adjudicators or arbitrators. We asked Mr. Carpenter how much did the adjudicators and arbitrators make from this case. He said that how much they were paid was “private information.”
Now, the lead counsel is White, the monitor is White, most of the arbitrators and adjudicators are White and the facilitator, Poorman-Douglas, is White. Mr. Pires said that most of the law firms that worked under him were Black and got most of the money. I let Attorney Rose Sanders, whose law firm Chestnut, Sanders, Sanders and Pettaway, Campbell & Albright P.C., out of Selma, Ala., listen to the tape of the public confrontation between Al Pires and myself. She said that Al Pires was lying about the money. Her law firm received only fractions of the money for each case. Al Pires received all of the money for each case. He then parceled out most of the cases to subordinate law firms, but reimbursed to them only a fraction of what it cost them to litigate the cases leaving her firm in the red.
So what about the Black farmers; did they get paid? The latest statistics regarding Pigford v. Glickman (now Veneman) in the Track A implementation as of Nov. 4, 2002 show that of the total 21,549 “eligible” class members 12,927 or 60 percent have been approved with cash settlement and debt relief amounting to $792,766,834. This is far below what the media has been putting out as a $2.5 billion settlement.
We asked the monitor’s office how many farmers’ appeals were they sending back to the adjudicators. Attorney Carpenter said about 60 percent would be sent back for review and 40 percent denied. This 60 percent approval rate seems to be a magic number in this case, which reminds one of the 3/5ths or 60 percent clause in the U.S. Constitution.
Each farmer who “won” under Class A was to receive $50,000 in cash, a $12,500 credit with the IRS to pay the taxes on the $50,000 and debt relief. Mr. Carpenter told the audience of Black farmers that, unfortunately there was miscommunication between the USDA and IRS. The IRS did not accept the $12,500 as payment on the taxes, but considered that as income. The farmers were not informed and therefore, did not declare this $12,500 as income nor did they pay the taxes on the $50,000 because they thought that the government had done so. Therefore, these farmers were penalized for not reporting income and not paying taxes on income received.
If you read such stories as “Who Wants to be a Black Millionaire:? The Untold Story of How USDA is Handing Out Billion because of Racism” at: http://www.amren.com/whowants.htm, you would think that the Black farmers got rich from the settlement. This article brought out some interesting “facts” about the lawsuit that we were not able to get directly but suspected. For instance, this February 2001 article stated, “It is highly significant that of the 11,932 claimants who had won so far, there were actual records of USDA loans for only 1,140 or 9.5 percent of them. This means only a tiny minority of successful claimants had some kind of documented borrowing relationship with USDA.”
If this statement is true, and we believe it is, it proves what the farmers have been saying all along. The real Black farmers who suffered under discrimination from the USDA loan programs did not get paid. Some Black people got paid, but they were not farmers. Instead, most of the 3,000 farmers whose property was under the threat of foreclosure in 1997 were denied in this case and now face foreclosure again with no legal right to fight, because they signed on to this consent decree. And most of the real farmers who got paid did not owe a debt to the USDA. In other words this whole process was a big government scam and cover up.
Don’t forget that Al Pires did not allow the farmers to read the consent decree until he had sent it to the court. When the farmers read the document, they went to Federal Court to protest against it at the Fairness Hearing in March of 1999. Judge Friedman signed the document, even though all the farmers were against it and everything that the farmers said would happen, happened.
Welcome to America: Land of the slaves, stolen by liars to their grave.
(Ridgeley Muhammad is manager of Muhammad Farms near Albany, Ga. He can be reached at: www.muhammadfarms.com.)