Americus Times-Recorder, Americus, Georgia

January 24, 2011

Buena Vista farmer takes on Sanford Bishop

The Americus Times-Recorder

ALBANY — According to a story from the Albany Herald last week, an Internet video surfaced on Jan. 18 in which Eddie Slaughter, a black farmer from Buena Vista, accuses Rep. Sanford Bishop Jr., D-Albany, of being aware of fraud in the $1 billion Pigford farm discrimination settlement.

According to the newspaper account, the accusation prompted a sharp and angry reaction from the congressman last Thursday.

“Yes, I am aware that there is fraud in the program; that’s why anti-fraud provisions were written into the settlement,” Bishop said Thursday morning according to the published account. “My job was to help secure funding for constituents who had been discriminated against by the USDA. It’s not my job to monitor fraud in the program. I can’t assume responsibility for fraud. You can’t lay that at my feet.

“This is ridiculous. It’s not my job to determine who is a qualified claimant or not, or who gets paid or who doesn’t get paid.”

According to the published story, in 1997, Timothy Pigford filed a class action lawsuit against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) charging that the USDA discriminated against black farmers when deciding to allocate price support loans, disaster payments for farm ownership and operating loans, and that the USDA had failed to process subsequent complaints about racial discrimination.

The newspaper reported that the suit resulted in a 1999 settlement under a consent decree where all black farmers were to be paid $50,000 and granted certain loan forgiveness and tax offsets.

The published account says that Slaughter says in the video that he spoke with Bishop at his Columbus office, where Bishop told him that the program was rife with fraud, with payments being made to people who lacked farm ID numbers or who weren’t farmers at all.

The Herald contacted Slaughter by telephone and confirmed that his statements on the video accurately represented what he said.

“They’re paying the non-farmers,” Slaughter told the newspaper. “We’re suffering from this injustice. The bona fide farmers are the ones paying the price.”

Slaughter told the newspaper that he asked Bishop why he wouldn’t investigate how much money was going to non-farmers and also said that the problems with proper recipients of the settlement started when lawyers got involved in the Pigford case.

Bishop told the Herald, “I’ve worked with Eddie Slaughter for more than 15 years and met with him about the slow progress in the Pigford case moving forward,” Bishop said. “He is also a Pigford claimant. I cannot assume any responsibility for any allegations he is making.

“Right now I would describe him as a disgruntled constituent.”

According to the published account, the video by Lee Stranahan is posted on Andrew Breitbart’s website, which also originated the video clip of Shirley Sherrod, of Albany, speaking at a Coffee County NAACP meeting, which resulted in her forced resignation as USDA Georgia Rural Development director. That video clip showed Sherrod admitting that she refused to give her full effort for a white farmer, but the full video of her speech revealed the incident as a turning point for her concerning race relations. Subsequently, Sherrod went back to the farmer and helped him with his problems. The farmer confirmed that Sherrod had been instrumental in keeping his family on its farm.

The USDA offered Sherrod another job with the agency after the full video was shown, but she declined the offer.