Archived Story

Strange warns black farmers of lawsuit fraud

Published 4:34pm Friday, November 22, 2013

Several Greenville farmers likely found themselves $100 short following the words of Thomas Burrell, president of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association (BFAA), who paid a visit to a packed auditorium at the Dunbar Community Center Wednesday.

Burrell offered to aid the black farmers of Butler County in filing claims in the Black Farmers Discrimination Litigation by becoming a member of the BFAA organization at the cost of $100 per year.

“If you’re a member of this organization, we can appeal for you,” Burrell said.

Burrell went on to say that farmers could claim as much as $50,000 each through the benefits of a BFAA membership and instructional affidavit tutorial DVDs, included at an additional cost of $20.

What Burrell neglected to mention, however, was that it is no longer possible to file a claim in the lawsuit, and it hasn’t been for nearly a year and a half.

The settlement in question specifically refers to Pigford v. Glickman class action lawsuit against the United States Department of Agriculture, which alleged racial discrimination in its allocation of loans to farmers between 1981 and 1996.

Thousands of farmers received payment as a part of the 1999 settlement, and a second round of payments (known as Pigford II) was designed to pay farmers who missed the filing deadline for Pigford I.

According to a recorded message available via the official informational line of the settlement’s claim administrator, “the claims period is now over, and the deadline to file a claim was May 11, 2012. There are no further opportunities to file a claim in this settlement, regardless of what you may have heard elsewhere.”

Burrell’s efforts reached a level of notoriety such that the New York Times published a front-page expose on April 25, 2013, detailing the works of his organization, noting that “Mr. Burrell has traveled the South for years, exhorting black audiences in auditoriums and church halls to file discrimination complaints with his organization’s help, in exchange for a $100 annual membership fee.”

The article did little to slow Burrell’s message from spreading across the Southeast, prompting warnings to the public from the offices of multiple attorneys general, most recently Alabama’s Attorney General Luther Strange.

Strange issued a warning to consumers Friday, encouraging people to be wary of organizations offering help in filing claims in the Black Farmers Discrimination Litigation.

“I am concerned by reports that there may be meetings in Alabama where black farmers are told that, for a fee, someone can help them file claims and participate in a federal discrimination lawsuit,” Strange said. “This is simply untrue, and farmers should not pay any money or provide personal information. It is unfortunate that scammers prey upon the hopes of those in need. We urge consumers to be cautious with anyone who is asking for a fee or for personal information, and to contact my consumer protection section if they have concerns.”

The attorney general’s consumer protection section may be contacted by visiting www.ago.alabama.gov or by calling its toll-free hotline at 1-800-392-5658.

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