While I was conducting a video interview with a Georgia farmer named Eddie Slaughter a couple of weeks ago, he made a surprising and stunning allegation: that he had told his congressman about fraud in the multibillion dollar Pigford v. Glickman settlement and that the congressman responded by telling him that an investigation into Pigford would "shut it down." Mr. Slaughter's congressman -- a man you may not have heard much about despite his nearly two decades as a Blue Dog Democrat and Congressional Black Caucus member -- is Sanford Bishop.
I followed up with Mr. Slaughter and I asked him if others were in the meeting with Congressman Bishop. I've since interviewed two of those farmers -- one on the phone and one, farmer Willie Head, on video. Both confirmed Mr. Slaughter's story.
Here's a a segment of my interview with Mr. Slaughter where he says:
We went to him [Sanford Bishop] several times about this fraud. [We asked] 'why don't you have them tell you how many of these people that are getting this money have an actual farm ID number and are actual farmers?' [Bishop responded] 'no, no, no -- man, they'll shut this thing down.'
And here is Willie Head:
I posted these videos to my YouTube account and then wrote pieces for Andrew Breitbart's BigGovernment.com site. The controversial Mr. Breitbart is funding the documentary I'm working on but has given me complete journalistic freedom and has had no direct involvement in shooting any of the more than 12 hours of video interviews I've done so far. As a liberal, I disagree with Breitbart on most issues, but I also found him to be a very different person than he's been portrayed as in the media, and working with him has been a great experience, just like my previous work for MoveOn.org and Brave New Films. I also don't believe he's a racist. If he were, I wouldn't be working with him.
Within a couple of days, Congressman Bishop had responded to three different newspapers. His story was different each time.
- Rep. Bishop told the Albany Herald that he was aware of the fraud but it wasn't his job to police it. This admission is significant because USDA Sec. Tom Vilsack has claimed that there was almost no fraud in Pigford.
- When speaking to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Rep. Bishop was suddenly stunned and perplexed and suggested that the farmers had been drinking. The AJC also played up the Breitbart angle and made no mention of me or my background as the sole reporter/videographer.
- Most recently, Rep. Bishop told the Columbus Ledger-Inquirer that he remembered the meeting, repeated that he wasn't responsible for monitoring fraud, suggested that there were anti-fraud provisions in the second Pigford bill and again insulted the farmers calling them disgruntled and irresponsible.
Despite the attempts at McCarthyesque guilt-by-association because Andrew Breitbart is funding this important story, please note that all three newspapers independently confirmed that the video accurately reflected what these farmers had told me. More damning for Congressman Bishop, of course, is that he confirmed to two of the newspapers that he was indeed aware of fraud in the Pigford case. This is from the Albany Herald piece:
"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.
Nor is this the first time that Sanford Bishop has been accused (and admitted to) being ethically challenged.
- In September, 2010 he admitted to diverting Congressional Black Caucus Foundation scholarship money to his friends and family and gave the excuse that there weren't nepotism rules in place for the scholarships at the time.
- There was also a case about a year ago where money that came from Bishop was paid to Bishop's stepdaughter and husband for work they allegedly didn't do -- but was directly deposited into Bishop's wife's bank account.
- Also, significantly related to the Pigford case is another story where an aide of Mr. Bishop's left an answering machine message with a farmer who he'd heard call Mr. Bishop an angry racial slur and threatened his Farm Service Administration loan. I believe this strange response shows that Bishop's office plays politics and favoritism with the farm loan process.
It's really rather amazing that Rep. Bishop has been able to skate under the radar while fellow CBC members like Charlie Rangel have been censured. Bishop's penchant for huge earmarks (more than $180,000,000 in the last three years) and gigantic, questionable agriculture subsidies has no doubt earned him some loyalty in his district even though he nearly lost his seat in the 2010 election.
Bishop's defense of his knowledge of Pigford fraud has been that there were provisions built into the recently signed Pigford 2 legislation designed to cut down on fraud. These so called protections are useless, however, when there are people who have been teaching others exactly how to commit nearly detection proof perjury and fill out the claim forms in order to get paid a $50,000 Pigford check.
And of course, this is fraud that USDA Secretary Vilsack has said is only a handful of cases, even after the USDA was shown my interview with a Pigford attorney weeks ago acknowledging hundreds of cases he was personally aware of. Vilsack seems to have the same concern that Rep. Bishop does that an investigation into Pigford would shut it down.
Bishop's bashing of his constituents is also troubling. He clearly enjoys insulting those who would speak truth to power. I've left several messages with Rep. Bishop's press secretary but haven't gotten a call back since the story broke. Because of Sanford Bishop's accusations about the farmers, I recorded a follow-up interview with Willie Head on Jan. 23 discussing Sanford Bishop, the press response, Andrew Breitbart and other issues.
Click here for the entire, unedited interview with Willie Head -- it's about 11 minutes long.