U.S. Attorney Josh Hurwit says that three Eastern Idaho farmers — Merrill Hanny, Roger Burke, and Robert Sollis — have paid a total of $500,000 to settle allegations that they violated the False Claims Act by submitting fraudulent Coronavirus Food Assistance Program applications, a program intended to provide direct support to farmers and ranchers to offset losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The settlement resolves allegations that Hanny, Burke, and Sollis knowingly and impermissibly included millions of pounds of potatoes on Burke’s and Sollis’ CFAP applications that were actually owned by Hanny. In this way, according to prosecutors, Burke and Hanny obtained CFAP funds that they were not eligible to receive, and Hanny was able to circumvent the $250,000 cap on CFAP funds they he could receive.
“The vast majority of Idahoans who applied for CFAP funds played by the rules,” Hurwit said. “Unfortunately, some individuals have sought to line their pockets by defrauding taxpayer-funded pandemic relief programs like USDA’s CFAP program. We will continue to use all tools at our disposal to pursue and hold such individuals accountable.”
The settlement is a result of a coordinated effort between the U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Idaho.
CFAP provided producers with $31 billion for various commodities to 950,000 producers including $13.8 billion for field crops, $9.8 billion for livestock, $3 billion for dairy, and $4.4 billion for other commodities. A review by the Government Accountability Office says that the Farm Service Agency generally paid producers based on the claims in their BFAP applications regarding commodity ownership and other program requirements.
To expedite payments, producers self-certified their claims, and FSA did not require evidence for their claims before issuing payments. Instead, the FSA conducted post-payment reviews and recovery audits. During a sampling of CFAP payments to 90 producers, the Government Accountability Office found that over half of the sampled participants did not provide full support for their payments, and could “potentially improper.”