Rep. Bishop blasts video

Photo by Joe Bellacomo

Photo by Joe Bellacomo

ALBANY, Ga. -- An Internet video surfaced Tuesday in which a black farmer, Eddie Slaughter of Buena Vista, accuses Rep. Sanford Bishop Jr., D-Albany, of being aware of fraud in the $1 billion Pigford farm discrimination settlement. That prompted a sharp and angry reaction from the congressman on 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. "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."

The settlement was the result of a class action lawsuit filed in 1997 by black farmer Timothy Pigford against the United States Department of Agriculture and then-Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman.

The suit charged 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 suit was settled in 1999 under a consent decree where all black farmers were to be paid $50,000 and granted certain loan forgiveness and tax offsets.

In the video, Slaughter says that he met with Bishop in the congressman's Columbus office, where he says 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.

Contacted by telephone Thursday night, Slaughter confirmed that the video accurately represented what he said.

"They're paying the non-farmers," he said. "We're suffering from this injustice. The bona fide farmers are the ones paying the price."

He said 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 confirmed that he knows Slaughter.

"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."

The video by Lee Stranahan is posted on Andrew Breitbart's BigGovernment.com website, which also originated the video footage of a Coffee County NAACP meeting the resulted in the forced resignation of USDA Georgia Rural Development Director Shirley Sherrod of Albany. The initial clip showed admitting that she refused to give her full effort for a white farmer, but the full video of her speech showed the incident was a turning point for her on race relations and that she 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.