Strawberry farmers accused of inflating crop

July 18, 2009 2:58:40 PM PDT
A pair of Monterey County strawberry farmers are facing federal charges for allegedly defrauding the U.S. government out of more than $200,000 in crop disaster relief.

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Marco Antonio Barbosa, 47, and his wife Maria Guadalupe Barbosa, 49, both of Salinas, were indicted by a federal grand jury Wednesday on charges of making false statements, and of conspiracy to make false statements, to the Commodity Credit Corporation of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the Barbosas applied for crop disaster assistance for their 2004 strawberry crop, claiming losses due to excessive heat, but failed to disclose the full extent of their crop.

They are also accused of falsely claiming to be farming as a joint venture instead of a corporation.

Both statements increased the disaster relief they received from the government, prosecutors said.

"Federal disaster relief programs are designed to help individuals who truly are in need," U.S. Attorney Joseph Russoniello said.

The indictment also alleges that Marco Barbosa served on the Monterey County Farm Service Agency Committee, which decides on disaster assistance applications from other producers, from 1996 to 2006.

"The farming community needs to know that the officials they elect to serve as their representatives must follow the same standards as all other farmers," USDA special agent Lori Chan said.

The maximum penalties for the charges are five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

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