Patterico @ Patterico Pontifications:
Alternate headline: New York Times reveals its racism.
Andrew Breitbart would tell anyone who would listen, at great length, about the Pigford fraud. Pigford was a class action lawsuit brought by black people who claimed to be farmers, and said the Agriculture Department had discriminated against them in making loan decisions. A court case had identified 91 potential claimants — but the Obama administration decided to engage in a more massive payout: $50,000 to virtually anybody who claimed that they had “attempted to farm” but could not because of discrimination.
Dangling $50,000 checks in front of people, while requiring almost no documentation (an affidavit from a pal backing you up was plenty good enough), predictably led to rampant fraudulent claims:
“It was the craziest thing I have ever seen,” one former high-ranking department official said. “We had applications for kids who were 4 or 5 years old. We had cases where every single member of the family applied.” The official added, “You couldn’t have designed it worse if you had tried.”
. . . .
In 16 ZIP codes in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and North Carolina, the number of successful claimants exceeded the total number of farms operated by people of any race in 1997, the year the lawsuit was filed. Those applicants received nearly $100 million.
In Maple Hill, a struggling town in southeastern North Carolina, the number of people paid was nearly four times the total number of farms. More than one in nine African-American adults there received checks. In Little Rock, Ark., a confidential list of payments shows, 10 members of one extended family collected a total of $500,000, and dozens of other successful claimants shared addresses, phone numbers or close family connections.
The scope of the problem runs into billions of dollars:[A]n examination by The New York Times shows that it became a runaway train, driven by racial politics, pressure from influential members of Congress and law firms that stand to gain more than $130 million in fees. In the past five years, it has grown to encompass a second group of African-Americans as well as Hispanic, female and Native American farmers. In all, more than 90,000 people have filed claims. The total cost could top $4.4 billion.
Especially infuriating: when prosecutors were given a test case of fraud, in which the claimant admitted lying in his application, they declined to prosecute — and the reason both amuses and infuriates:
In Arkansas, prosecutors rejected a test case against a Pine Bluff police officer who had admitted lying on his claim form. Paula J. Casey, the United States attorney in Arkansas in 2000, said that singling out one individual raised questions of selective prosecution.
“The defendant could go to the jury and say: ‘Everybody else did this. Why am I standing here?’ ” she said.
There’s so much fraud, you see, that you can’t prosecute just one person. So you can’t prosecute anybody.
This is, of course, absurd logic. If it’s hard to prosecute people for reasons of proof, and you have someone who confessed, it’s not “selective prosecution” to charge that person. This reasoning, followed to its logical conclusion, would make it impossible to prosecute Internet fraud, which is certainly rampant and difficult to prosecute.
But, you see, there is a difference. The government does not aid and abet Internet fraud as a general rule. Prosecuting an Internet fraud case would not be embarrassing for the Obama administration.
Not so for a Pigford fraud case.
The article is stunning — and an incredible vindication of Andrew Breitbart: