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Home  »  Ag Sectors

Calif. strawberry grower sentenced in fraud case

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BY MATEUSZ PERKOWSKI



Capital Press



A strawberry farmer in California has been sentenced to a year behind bars for defrauding federal crop disaster assistance programs.



Marco Antonio Barbosa, 50, previously pleaded guilty to making false statements to USDA to obtain $223,000 in disaster relief.



In addition to serving a year and a day in prison, Barbosa must repay the $223,000 and serve three years of probation. He is also barred from participating in any USDA programs.



According to a federal indictment, Barbosa told the USDA that excessive heat had caused strawberry crop losses in 2004.



While he reported selling only about 500 tons of strawberries that year, Barbosa actually sold more than three times that amount, the indictment said.



Barbosa and his wife also told the USDA that they ran the operation as a joint venture, the indictment said.



This misrepresentation allowed them to double the amount of relief available under a disaster assistance program compared to an individual farmer or corporation, according to the indictment.



Barbosa asked a federal judge for a sentence of only probation because the crime was motivated by financial hardship rather than "furtherance of a lavish lifestyle."



He argued that he lied to USDA "as a means of staving off bankruptcy and generating modest but illicit profit from farm labor which had stopped generating any reasonable or proportionate income," according to a court document.



A prison sentence would prevent Barbosa from earning money as a truck driver, this "depriving his wife and youngest son of their livelihood," the document said.



The government sought a 15-month sentence for Barbosa, arguing that he stole a substantial amount of money meant for disaster relief.



Imprisonment would "afford adequate deterrence of further criminal conduct -- both for the defendant and the public," the government said in a court document.



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