Jackson, Miss. The Mississippi Attorney General's Office has issued a warning to the public about people and organizations offering help to file claims in a Black Farmers lawsuit.
"It has been brought to our attention that there are individuals/organizations who are holding meetings statewide and charging a fee to help black farmers file claims and participate in lawsuits when, in fact, the deadline to do so has long since passed," said Attorney General Hood. "We are looking into these allegations and what we can do about them, but feel the need to warn consumers to be wary."
In an email to the media Hood said federal courts gave final approval to a settlement on Oct. 27, 2011, providing over $1 billion to settle claims by African American farmers that the USDA discriminated against them between 1981 and 1996 based on race, wrongfully denying them farm loans, loan servicing, and other benefits, or giving them loans with unfair terms.
Hood said the deadline to file a claim for the settlement was May 11, 2012, about a year and a half ago.
"Wherever there is money involved, we find scammers trying to steal it from those who most need it," said Hood. "What a shame that we have to send out such a warning. You can never be too careful these days."
If you feel you may have already fallen for such a scam, please contact the Attorney General’s Office at 601-359-4230 or 1-800-281-4418. You may also fill out and submit a complaint form online. A link is provided below.
A group calling itself the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association, Inc., held meetings Monday at Meridian's Frank Cochran Center, as well as in Hattiesburg Tuesday and Wednesday, claiming that even though payments for a 'second wave' of the Black Farmers' lawsuit were denied, others could still seek compensation.
Thomas Burrell, the association president, said the statute of limitation that Congress passed is still open.
"The lawsuits themselves may be closed, but the statute of limitation, which is perhaps the most powerful piece of legislation that made this lawsuit available in the first place, it was signed, and therefore we're arguing that as long as the waiver is still in motion the courts could open up and either allow folks to get into the last lawsuit or create another one," said Thomas Burrell in Meridian Monday.
Burrell said his organization is working to help people who were affected by this type discrimination to get compensated.
"We have filed motions to intervene, but more importantly we're helping them to do what's called filling out an affidavit, and that is how they would explain how they were discriminated against," Burrell said Monday.
Gary R. Grant, president of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association, a separate organization, told WTOK's state network partner, WDAM-TV, that those seeking payouts will not see any money because the case has already been closed.
"I am familiar with the man," said Grant of Burrell. "He is not associated with the BFAA. I get phone calls about him all the time."
He added, concerning the litigation in question, "The Pigford claim is closed. People can't receive payment because that settlement is closed. People should know that."
Two of the three lead attorneys in the Black Farmers Discrimination litigation also said that the cases were closed, and there were no chances of the cases being opened again.
"They are very careful, he clearly states the $100 [is] for a membership fee, and legally anyone can charge a membership fee for an organization," said Hank Sanders, lead class council attorney for the litigation. "If you think you can get $50,000 by giving $100, you ought to keep your money."
Sanders also said that Burrell did a tour in Alabama, and this isn't the first time he has heard of his efforts to appeal the case.