LAFAYETTE, Louisiana (AP) – The owner of a breeding business in Louisiana has pleaded guilty to stealing more than $ 76,000 from a federal aid program to help compensate farmers and ranchers for losses owed to the coronavirus pandemic, US authorities said on Wednesday.
Burnell Gabriel Zachary, 37, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to a U.S. government robbery count and agreed to reimburse $ 76,274 as part of a plea deal with federal prosecutors in Lafayette, court documents show.
Zachary, a resident of Arnaudville in south-central Louisiana, falsely claimed the pandemic caused significant losses for his ranching business, Zachary’s Ranch, LLC, and as a result received three payments in July and August 2020, according to the documents.
Upon conviction, Zachary faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $ 250,000. The date of his conviction has not been set.
The money Zachary received was from a $ 16 billion federal program to help farmers and ranchers who have lost money due to COVID-19 or the supply chain disruptions he caused.
“COVID-19 fraud is a top priority for this office” because it takes money from people who really need it, Acting US Attorney Alexander C. Van Hook said in a press release.
“The US Department of Agriculture’s COVID-19 food aid programs were intended to keep food on tables during this unprecedented time,” said Dax Roberson, special agent in charge of the Inspector General’s office. the USDA, which investigated the case.
“This lawsuit should send a strong message of zero tolerance to these opportunistic fraudsters who would take advantage of a national emergency to get rich,” added Roberson.
For more AP coverage of the pandemic, go to: https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic