Farmers warned of scams

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 6, 2003

Black farmers in Dallas County and the surrounding area are being warned against anyone soliciting money to make them part of the class action lawsuit filed on behalf of black farmers against the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

According to one attorney in the case, more than $3,000 in “fees” was collected earlier this week during a meeting of farmers at a Selma church.

But according to the law firm that initiated the suit, it’s too late for any farmer not already a party to that lawsuit to be included at this point.

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The case in question is known officially as Pigford vs. Veneman. The suit alleges that the department discriminated against minority and disadvantaged farmers who had sought loans under various Depart-ment of Agriculture programs.

A consent degree stemming from that case established that an estimated $2 billion in damages was owed those farmers who could prove they had been denied loans due to discrimination.

Faya Ora Toure, a partner in the law firm of Chestnut, Sanders and Sanders, which initiated the case, said Wednesday that she has learned that some black farmers in Dallas County are being told they can still be added to that lawsuit — if they pay a fee to cover filling out an application and filing it with the court.

“It is absolutely too late to get in that lawsuit if you are not already a part of it,” Toure said.

Toure said that while she questioned the motives of some of those attempting to solicit money, she was aware of others who are promoting such meetings out of the mistaken belief that it is still not too late to become a plaintiff in the case.

“You’ve got a lot of good people who apparently are misinformed about this,” she said.

Toure said she knew of at least one meeting held Monday at a local church in which more than $3,000 had been collected from those in attendance as payment for being added to the lawsuit.

“There are some legitimate groups out there who are organizing and soliciting funds in an attempt to empower black farmers to access USDA programs by applying political pressure,” Toure said. “And I encourage everyone to support these groups.

“But some organizations are deliberately misleading farmers to believe they can get into this existing suit and that is not true.”

According to J.L. Chestnut Jr., another attorney for the plaintiffs in the case, any fees charged to farmers in the case be approved by the court on a case-by-case basis. Toure said her firm has never charged a fee to any plaintiff they represented in the case.

Chestnut added that the FBI is investigating the recent spate of solicitations in this area.