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FOUR INDIVUALS AND A CORPORATION SUSPENDED FROM FEDERAL CROP INSURANCE PROGRAM

Contact: John Shea, (202) 690-0437

WASHINGTON, Dec 19, 2003 - USDA's Risk Management Agency Administrator and Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC) Manager Ross J. Davidson, Jr., has announced the suspension of four individuals and a farm corporation from participating in the Federal crop insurance program after they were indicted for conspiracy to defraud the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) of more than $12 million since 1997.

"The Risk Management Agency considers it a primary duty to be good stewards of taxpayers' money and to protect public interest," said Davidson. "Secretary Veneman's risk management initiative gives high priority to combating fraud, waste and abuse of the Federal crop insurance program."

Pursuant to USDA Regulation 7 C.F.R. § 3017.700, suspension may be imposed when adequate evidence that a cause for debarment under 7 C.F.R. § 3017.800 exists and immediate action is necessary to protect the public interest. An indictment constitutes adequate evidence for the purpose of suspension. The suspensions will remain in effect pending the outcome of the trial. A conviction may be used as a basis for debarment from all government programs.

On October 8, 2003, a grand jury in the District Court of the United States for the Western District of North Carolina, Asheville Division, indicted Robert Warren, Viki Warren, and R&V Warren Farms, Inc., of conspiracy to defraud USDA including making false statements, financial crimes enterprise, conspiracy, mail fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and money laundering in connection with the federal farm and crop insurance programs administered by USDA's Risk Management Agency (RMA). According to the indictment, the Warrens faked weather damage to their crops by having workers throw ice cubes onto a tomato field, and then take photographs substantiating false damage claims of a massive hailstorm.

George T. Kiser and Thomas Jeffrey Marsh were charged with making false statements to the FCIC and with conspiring to make false statements.

The agencies involved in the investigation of this case are the Office of Inspector General of the USDA and the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigations. The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation and the Henderson County Sheriff's Office have also assisted the United States in the investigations.

Suspensions from the Federal crop insurance program have increased in recent years. Between 1995 and 2001, the FCIC issued eight suspension notices. Since 2002, Davidson has issued 18 suspension notices against individuals and entities, including Warren Farms.