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Where's the Deed? Who's Hijacking billions of dollars in Farmland?

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An Arkansas farmer wants to know who is squatting on his land and why his county Recorder is balking at letting him have access to his land records, despite his Freedom of Information Request more than 6 months ago. Among his holdings is an 8.75 acre tract of land, which he inherited from his father. The land is on the rolls of a Department of Agriculture land conservation program, but Vellis Redden, the farmer in question, says that land was mysteriously migrated to a Conservation Program in the form of a 'trust', without his knowledge, without his consent and without remuneration for the property. Vellis Redden has issues. As the only African American tradesman working on construction of the Clinton Library, he had issues with supervisors who verbally pronounced that they wanted no 'n-words' on the construction project. He sued. And won, and got entangled in other legal problems when his attorney allegedly failed to file the proper paperwork, which resulted in a judgment AGAINST him by the people he sued. Now, he's blackballed by the union, can't work in his home state as a sheet metal worker, and struggles to keep the home fires going in his other legal matters. This is just another case of pen and paper lynching, and, like that infamous television bunny, it just keeps going, on, and on, and on. Redden legal problem with FSA and his local union is a many-headed Hydra. When he removes one head, others grow back and keep siphoning his resources, diverting his land for others' use and restrain his ability to earn a living as a sheet metal worker, and, in addition to all of the rest of his problems, his property rights are violated as well. Like many agriculturists, family farmers and black farmers, Redding has knocked heads with his local Farm Service Administration officials, time and time again. He has requested access to his files. He has requested documents. He has written to his senators, to his local farm loan agency and to state and federal farm loan administrators, who refer him back to the very same local entity which he says has been uncooperative for years. Since before September of 2006 he has had a running letter writing campaign with his county Farm Services Agency. He's written letters to his US Senators, who refer him back to the same people who won't release his requested files, even under several Freedom of Information Act requests, and when they do release the files, the documents have no bearing on his requests. According to Redden, the files that he has so far received have no bearing on the information he is seeking. In a letter dated September 20, 2006, an FSA functionary wrote: "I was so hopeful that we would be able to just open the farm folder and provide you with the requested information. However, as luck would have it, the information will have to Be (sic) researched at the courthouse. We are going to do the research for you and I am going To (sic) ask you to be patient just a little longer." That was nearly a year ago, but, as of this writing, the only "luck" Redden has had with the Agency has been bad luck. According to the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act: If a public record is in active use or storage and therefore not available at the time a citizen asks to examine it, the custodian [of the records] shall certify this fact in writing to the applicant and set a date ands hour within three (3) working days at which time the record will be available for the exercise of the right given by this chapter. Redden says he has requested both local land records and FSA records pertinent to his land ownership and has gotten the run around for more than a year. The treatment he has received flies in the face of both Arkansas law and US Code. Despite what he says is an illegal failure to disclose public documents regarding his land ownership, as of July 19, 2007, he has not received access to those land documents. Moving on up the political chain of command, Redden wrote to his US senator, who talked to the local FSA agency, whose representative reportedly ignored the request about the land records and talked about an alleged $43.00 debt reportedly incurred in 2004 regarding Redding's 'First and Second Advanced Counter-Cyclical Payments.' Mr. Redden disputes that he owed the debt, but since it is "chump change", he paid the money, negating the Agency's excuse for sidetracking his request about the possibly illegal transfer of his 8.75 acres into a conservation trust. In his July 17, 2007 to Senator blanche Lambert Lincoln, Mr. Redden writes that "The Phillips County Director stated 'that I do not own it any longer, it now belongs to a trust. That transaction could not be legal because I never sold the land.....In my possession, I still have the deed I received many years ago." He continues his demand for access to land documents concerning the ownership of the land, writing: "...I am enclosing a copy of the cashiers check made payable to FSA for $44.64. Now that this debt is paid in full, it should not be confused any more with my FOIA request concerning the ownership of the TRUST which now owns my 8.75 acres that I never sold." Around the nation, farmers are complaining of massive fraud and illegal land transfers worth millions, even billions of dollars. In the latest hearings on the 2007 Farm Bill, and in conferences around the country, dozens of farmers-white, black, female and "minority" are accusing functionaries of the Department of Agriculture of conspiracy, fraud, and racketeering. The claim that they are the victims of illegal land transfers, and they cannot fight those transfers because local land office officials and farm loan personnel are refusing to grant them access to their own land and loan documents. Other farmers are accusing local banks and farm loan program employees of collusion, theft and document forgery. Many see hope because several members of Congress have held or plan to hold in-depth hearings on the 2007 Farm Bill. They say the problem within the Justice Department regarding the politicizing of the US Attorney's office directly impacts what they see as corruption in both the federal prosecutor's office and the Farm Service Administration. Many believe that Congress, and the presidential candidates, will demand hearings and solutions in the coming election year. Others who have been around a lot longer are more cynical. They have seen farm hearings, USDA investigations and flash in the pan inquiries come and go and they say that unless and until there is a major change in the way the Farm Service Administration does business, nothing will change. Many say the corruption begins at the local level, in the Farm Loan Councils, because that is where the most opportunity lies, but they also see problems at the sate and national level. Congress tried to address the local level issue several years ago by changing the way the local farm loan personnel are hired, but that went over like a lead balloon-mainly because the local 'councils' challenged the incursion on "local authority". While the bean cutters and budget examiners take aim at the federal budget, many farmers say they should also be looking at the billions dollars in waste, fraud and land theft which has become so endemic, that many farmers have given up and have gotten out of farming completely. Many of these farm communities are small towns, often vulnerable to petty politics, family feuds and racist or sexist hold overs from a bygone era. Many farmers say that despite, Equal Rights, Civil Rights and Human Rights legislation, it's still a good ole boys world and if you are not part of the "good ole boys network", they'll grind you down, lock you out of resources, deny or retract your farm loan and drive you out of business in a heartbeat. More than a year ago, a Kentucky farmer demanded the Justice Department open an investigation into FSA practices in Kentucky. He filed a class action, which has yet to be certified by the federal courts. Dozens of farmers are waiting for the court to take action and certify the case so that all of them can have a chance to have their day in court.
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Wanna be member of the anti-word police, author, columnist, activist and muckraker extraordinaire. Author of:

Land, Legacy and Lynching: Building the Future for Black America

Urban Asylum: Politics, Lunatics and the Refrigerator (more...)

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