It is good to see the government in action and stopping excesses, a fresh prospective if you will, following the ugly election cycle we are just exiting. These are summaries of ethical and legal issues that member of the Ag community who work for the Federal government have been caught in recent years from the Pentagon's Encyclopedia of Ethical Failures. Yes, that is a real document handled by the Department of Defense's Standards and Conduct Office.
Agriculture Employee Sought for Approving Fraudulent Loans
A former employee of the Department of Agriculture is wanted for recruiting his friends to fraudulently apply for farm loans and then giving him money in exchange for approving the loans. The former employee helped his non-farmer co-conspirators to fill out the required forms with the information required for approval. Under this scheme, the former employee approved loans totaling $1.8 million. He collected $340,000 for himself. The former employee has been charged with 98 counts including 56 for bribery. Federal sentencing patterns suggest that he is facing a long time in the federal criminal system. The loan applicants also likely face a dim, non farming future.
Seven Agriculture Inspectors Sentenced for Bribery Scheme
Seven U.S. Department of Agriculture fruit and vegetable inspectors were convicted of operating a scheme in which they received cash payments from fruit and vegetable wholesalers in return for the inspectors assigning lower grades to their produce. The lower grade meant that the wholesaler could pay the grower a lower price for the produce and then re-sell it at the higher grade.
All pled guilty to one count of bribery each. Bribery occurs when a public official seeks or accepts anything of value (such as cash) in return for being influenced in the performance of an official act (such as assigning produce grades).
District Conservationist at Department of Agriculture's National Resources Conservation Service Sentenced for Conflict of Interest
The NRCS employee was the Government's technical representative on a USDA soil and water conservation program that was implemented through a State of North Carolina program called NCACSP (North Carolina Agricultural Cost Share Program). Under the NCACSP program, local landowners can receive funding to reduce agricultural pollution. The NRCS employee, in his position as a district conservationist, approved a contract whereby a business venture owned by his spouse sold filter fabric to landowners through the NCACSP program.The NRCS employee was charged with a felony count of violating 18 U.S.C. 2, aiding and abetting, and 18 U.S.C. 208, for participating personally and substantially as a Government employee in a particular matter, in which, to his knowledge, his spouse has a financial interest. Further, in his position as a district conservationist, he approved a contract between the NCACSP and a cattle operation in which he and his spouse were partners. Additionally, he approved a contract for fence construction between the NCACSP and a third party. This contract resulted in payments that were transferred to a partnership consisting of the NRCS employee, his spouse, and the third party. The NRCS employee was charged with two additional felony counts of violating 18 U.S.C. 208, for participating personally and substantially as a Government employee in a particular matter, in which, to his knowledge, he, his spouse, and general partner have a financial interest. A jury convicted the NRCS employee on all counts. He was sentenced by the court to one year of probation.
Secret Agent Man?
A former high-level official at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stole nearly $900,000 from the Government by pretending to be part of a detail to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for nearly two decades. He duped a series of supervisors, including top officials, by disappearing from the office and explaining his absences by telling his bosses that he was doing top-secret work for the CIA and its "directorate of operations." No one at EPA ever checked to see if he worked for the CIA. In all, he was paid for 2.5 years of work that he did not perform and received about $500,000 in "retention bonuses" that he did not deserve. Additionally, he lied about contracting malaria, which cost the EPA $8,000 over three years for a parking space reserved for the disabled. He was reimbursed for $57,000 in fraudulent travel expenses, and he continued to draw a paycheck for 19 months after his retirement. He has repaid the nearly $900,000 to the EPA, but still owes $507,000 in a money judgment. He was sentenced to 32 months in prison.
Agricultural Economist and Wife Violate 18 U.S.C. 208 in Visa Scam
A Department of Agriculture agricultural economist found himself facing jail time for his decision to attempt to exploit his Government position. The economist was put in charge of a Department program to bring together U.S. and Chinese agriculture experts. Instead, the economist forged documents, with the assistance of his wife, to extort $82,000 from nearly 100 Chinese nationals seeking entry to the United States. While the economist's case is still pending, his wife pled guilty to one count of aiding and abetting an unlawful conflict of interest in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 208 and 2. She received two years probation and 100 hours of community service.
Boyfriends Can Be Very Expensive For Employees Who Steal Funds
A U.S. Forest Service employee faced a maximum of 13 years in prison for stealing over $642,000 and committing tax fraud. The employee paid restitution of the entire $642,000 prior to sentencing.
The employee admitted that during her job of overseeing payments with Federal charge cards and Government checks, she wrote Government checks to her boyfriend, who occasionally contracted with the Forest Service. Disguised as firefighting payments, the checks were deposited in the couple's joint bank account and used to pay for expenses and gambling. It appears this relationship came at a very high price.
Former Official at the Department of Agriculture's Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC) Improperly Represents New Employer to U.S. Government
A major crop insurance corporation began the FCIC appeal process with respect to adverse FCIC decisions on certain claims (including the case of a certain Maine potato farmer) by sending to the official in question a notice of intent to appeal. Later that year, the official left the FCIC and joined the crop insurance corporation as a consultant. After the FCIC rejected the appeals that the company had initiated, the official repeatedly tried to persuade Agency officials to reconsider the denial of the appeal involving the Maine potato farmer.
The former official pled guilty to two counts of violating the two-year restriction on post employment contacts codified at 18 U.S.C. 207(a)(2) and was sentenced to probation. This statute bars former employees for a period two years from representing others to Federal agencies regarding particular matters involving specific parties which were pending under the former employee's official responsibility during his or her last year of Federal service.