Federal False Claims Complaint Filed Against Former Blackfeet Tribal Chairman
The United States Attorney's Office announced that it has filed a False Claims Act complaint against former Blackfeet Tribal Chairman Patrick Charles Thomas in federal court. The civil complaint seeks over $944,000 in damages.
Thomas, a lifelong resident of the Blackfeet Reservation, served on the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council, the governing body of the Blackfeet Tribe, from 2004 to 2008; first in the position of Vice Chairman and then as Chairman.
The complaint relates to a December 2011 claim by Thomas against the Keepseagle v. Vilsak settlement fund. In Keepseagle v. Vilsak, Civil Action No. 1:99 CV 03119 (DDC) (EGS), a class action lawsuit was pursued by Native American farmers and ranchers who alleged that they had been discriminated against by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and that they had been denied equal access to credit in the USDA Farm Loan Program. As a result of that lawsuit, on April 28, 2011, a $760 million settlement with the USDA was approved, a settlement fund was established, and claims were entertained from individual Native American producers who asserted that they had been discriminatorily aggrieved by the USDA in the lending process.
The Native American farmers and ranchers entitled to file a claim and receive relief under the settlement were producers who:
Farmed or ranched or attempted to farm or ranch between January 1, 1981 and November 24, 1999;
Sought, or attempted to seek, a farm loan from the USDA during that period;
Had their application denied, provided late, approved for a lessor amount than asked, was encumbered by restrictive conditions, or failed to have appropriate loan servicing;
Complained about discrimination to the USDA during the same time period; and
Suffered economic harm attributable to USDA actions.
Successful claimants were eligible to receive a payment of up to $50,000 and forgiveness of some or all outstanding USDA loans.
In its civil complaint, the United States seeks damages from Thomas based upon his claim that he was discriminated against by the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and that he had met the criterion relating to complaining to USDA about discrimination during the time period. The United States alleges that the claims were untrue and that Thomas would not have been able to share in the settlement if he had been honest.
As a result of his successful claim, the complaint alleges, the FSA forgave $201,917.53 in agricultural loan indebtedness, paid him a $50,000 award, and then paid Thomas's income tax liability on the loan forgiveness and the cash award in the amount of $62,979.38, for a total loss to the United States of $314,896.91. The False Claims Act allows the United States to recover three times the actual loss amount so the total demand is $944,690.73.
United States Attorney Mike Cotter stated:
The Keepseagle settlement fund was established by the Department of Agriculture to remedy a bona fide complaint that Native American producers had been treated unfairly in agricultural lending practices. Like all fraud, waste, and abuse in government programs, a fraudulent claim to a share of that fund diminishes the opportunity for the truly aggrieved to be properly compensated. And it undermines the integrity of the judicial system. This office is committed to holding false actors accountable and maintaining the confidence of the public in our ability to stem the tide of litigation fraud."