Farm Subsidy Fraud is a False Claims Act Violation
Two things conspired to make Friday Happy Hour a 2020 tradition at Bracker & Marcus LLC.
First, there was the small matter of a worldwide pandemic. We were already cloud-based and capable of working from “virtually” anywhere. However, the advent of digital learning (also known as “teach your kids at home days”), not to mention the very real concerns about the spreading virus, meant that the then-three of us needed to get serious about working from home for a while. Without the casual updates that normally occur in an office setting, we needed to find a time to connect.
Second, in March and April, Bracker & Marcus LLC grew by two attorneys, adding Nathan Peak in Washington, D.C. and Anna Dover in Manhattan. Both are experienced False Claims Act litigators, but they needed to be brought into the fold of the firm, from the minute (“always use Oxford commas” and “only one space after a period”), to big-picture discussions such as case matters and legal questions.
Simply put, we now had a law firm of four attorneys and an office manager paralegal, none of whom were physically sharing space.
Zoom Happy Hour with Bracker & Marcus LLC
To stay connected, we began the Bracker & Marcus LLC Friday afternoon Zoom Happy Hour. We use the time to discuss potential clients, share interesting discoveries made during the week, provide updates on existing cases, and, of course, share personal stories.
Last week, it was Mr. Speckles’ hair-raising adventures with a wounded squirrel in the wilds of West Virginia.
This sets the stage for what I like to call “GOATGATE 2020.”
Although our happy hours are generally not much different from traditional law firm meetings, Jason, who has an almost unnerving ability to find new and unusual things, wanted to use a Happy Hour to do a “Goat-2-Meeting.”
“What the heck is a Goat-2-Meeting?” I asked.
“You know,” says Jason, “It’s like Happy Hour… but with goats!”
Take a Virtual Farm Tour
For a small donation, you too can invite a Sweet Farm Animal Ambassador to join your virtual meeting and give you a tour of the farm, complete with farm animals. Sweet Farm’s motto is “Educate, Inspire, Innovate.” There’s a great video about their work here. It seemed like a really neat cause to support.
Also, did I mention the goats?
Needless to say, we were in.
Since we were not the only corporate group trying to plan a Friday afternoon Happy Hour, we planned our Goat-2-Meeting in the early days of the pandemic but didn’t hold it until early June. During that time, excitement built. “Happy Hour with Goats is coming soon!” And when at last the day came, emails, texts, and Slack messages flew, fast and furious. Today is the day! At last! Happy Hour with Goats!
Well, I’m pleased to tell you that we had a terrific Goat-2-Meeting, which we thoroughly enjoyed. We met many roosters, chickens, and pigs – my favorite was Piggy Sue – and learned about the farm’s mission from one of its board members, Carol Messina.
However, we did not meet a goat.
In fairness, the Goat-2-Meeting sign up clearly states that there are no guarantees on having any specific animal present for a particular meeting. And Carol did warn us at the outset that the goats were on the other side of the farm and she probably wouldn’t make it over there in the relatively short time we had.
So we certainly aren’t alleging any sort of…farm fraud! In fact, Sweet Farm’s Goat-2-Meeting delivered just what it promised – an educational and entertaining look at a working farm.
Farm Subsidies On the Rise, Fraud Follows
In contrast to the fine folks at Sweet farm, the family who owned Dowson Farms paid $5.4 million in 2014 to resolve allegations of farm subsidy fraud. The owners of this Central Illinois family farm business allegedly created multiple limited partnerships to hide exactly who owned what. Doing so would circumvent the “Three Entity Rule,” designed by Congress to keep individuals from receiving more than their fair share of farm subsidy funds. The settlement was with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In 2017, a Louisiana farmer was sentenced to 108 months in prison and ordered to repay $1.6 million after defrauding the USDA out of $5.4 million in subsidy payments through the creation of fictitious farm operations.
Over the last few years, in large part due to the tariffs against China (customs fraud is a category of False Claims Act liability all of its own), farm subsidies have risen exponentially. In 2019, tens of billions of dollars were disbursed to farmers, the highest level in history.
When $28 billion in free money becomes available, you can expect some fraud. If you are aware of someone defrauding the federal government out of farm subsidies, you may be eligible for a whistleblower reward under the False Claims Act. Contact us to discuss this further.
And for our part, Bracker & Marcus LLC highly recommends you try out a Goat-2-Meeting of your own. No “kidding” around, you’ll enjoy a virtual outing in the beautiful Bay Area farm – goats or no goats!
JM Update: Fortunately, Roswell, Georgia has its own goat hill!