Our Former Federal Prosecutors Represent Companies Nationwide in Investigations Involving All USDA Agencies and Offices
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is among the many government entities that enforce company’s legal and regulatory obligations at the federal level. Of its 29 agencies and offices, several have operations that are devoted to investigating companies’ operations and pursuing enforcement action for administrative, civil, and criminal violations.
With oversight of “food, agriculture, natural resources, rural development, nutrition, and related issues,” the USDA’s enforcement authority is extremely broad. At Oberheiden P.C., we represent companies nationwide in investigations and enforcement proceedings involving all substantive matters falling within the USDA’s jurisdiction. This includes investigations and enforcement proceedings involving the following USDA agencies and offices:
- Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS)
- Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC)
- Farm Service Agency (FSA)
- Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS)
- Forest Service (FS)
- Office of Inspector General (OIG)
Federal Defense Counsel for USDA Contractors and Other Companies
The USDA investigates companies and individuals involved in all aspects of agriculture, farming, food production, national resource extraction and development, and the sale of related goods to consumers. Through its Office of Inspector General (OIG), the USDA also investigates private contractors for fraud under the False Claims Act (FCA). In addition to civil or criminal charges under the FCA, companies targeted in USDA investigations can face prosecution under statutes including (but not limited to):
- Agricultural Bioterrorism Protection Act
- Animal Health Protection Act
- Animal Welfare Act
- Commercial Transportation of Equines to Slaughter Act
- Farm Bill
- Federal Seed Act
- Food, Conservation, and Energy Act
- Food Security Act
- Honey Bee Act
- Horse Protection Act
- Lacey Act
- Plant Protection Act
- Virus Serum Toxin Act
Regardless of the statutory authority under which you or your company is being targeted, if you have been contacted by agents from the USDA or one of its agencies or offices, you need to engage experienced federal defense counsel promptly. These investigations can be extraordinarily broad in scope, and they can quickly become unmanageable without prompt intervention. When you engage Oberheiden P.C., our former federal prosecutors will get to work on your company’s investigation right away, and we will immediately begin our efforts to steer the investigation toward a favorable pre-charge resolution.
We Handle All Types of USDA Investigations
Our federal defense practice encompasses all of the various types of allegations that can arise during a USDA investigation. This includes providing defense representation for companies facing allegations such as:
USDA Contractor Fraud
Like all federal government contractors, USDA contractors are subject to an extensive list of contractual obligations, regulatory requirements, and statutory prohibitions. USDA contractors accused of inflating invoices, delivering substandard products and services, and other forms of federal government contract fraud can face allegations under the False Claims Act and other statutes.
Unlawful Importing of Meat, Poultry, and Eggs
Federal laws restrict the countries that are permitted to export meat, poultry, and eggs (among other products) to the United States. Companies that unlawfully import products from these countries can face substantial fines and other penalties in USDA investigations.
Farm Bill Violations
The Farm Bill is an omnibus piece of federal legislation that establishes varied requirements and restrictions for companies involved in all aspects of food production, transportation, and distribution. Companies accused of violating the Farm Bill can face steep penalties, and executing an effective defense strategy will often be crucial to maintaining these companies’ ability to operate and their eligibility for USDA programs.
Crop Insurance Fraud
In addition to facing issues with their insurance companies, farms can also face USDA investigations for crop insurance fraud. This includes both underreporting and overreporting crop production in order to secure additional indemnity payments.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Fraud
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) fraud is among the most-common allegations targeted in USDA investigations. In recent years, the USDA OIG has targeted slaughterhouse operators, grocery stores, and essentially all companies in between for violating the SNAP payment eligibility requirements.
Theft of Government Property
In addition to facing specific allegations such as SNAP fraud or food stamp fraud, companies accused of abusing USDA programs can also face charges for theft of government property. This is a serious federal crime that carries substantial fines and terms of imprisonment for company owners and executives.
Inhumane Animal Slaughtering and Other Animal Welfare Violations
The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) investigates cases involving suspected inhuman handling and slaughtering of livestock as well as other animal welfare violations in the agricultural sector. These investigations can also lead to significant penalties, and farms, slaughterhouses, and other entities targeted in these investigations need to engage experienced defense counsel in order to mitigate any potential civil or criminal liability.
Theft, Unlawful Transportation, and Unlawful Sale of Livestock
Theft of livestock is another act that can lead to both civil litigation and USDA enforcement action. The USDA also investigates cases involving the suspected unlawful transportation and sale of livestock when livestock animals are carried across state lines.
Unlawful Receipt of Livestock Forage Program (LFP), Non-Insured Disaster Assistance Program (NAP), and Other Program Benefits
The USDA administers a broad range of benefit programs that are intended to serve several different populations. The USDA is on high alert for fraud targeting these programs, and it routinely investigates both companies and individuals for unlawful receipt of Livestock Forage Program (LFP), Non-Insured Disaster Assistance Program (NAP), and other program benefits.
Many company owners, business executives, and other individuals targeted in USDA investigations are surprised to learn that they are facing the possibility of federal criminal prosecution. When a USDA investigation leads to criminal prosecution, the government’s attorneys will often pursue charges under statutes of general applicability in addition to the specific statutes underlying the USDA’s investigation. Charges for conspiracy, money laundering, wire fraud, and other related offenses are all common, and each of these charges carries the potential for substantial fines and years behind bars.
No matter what allegations are involved in your company’s (or your personal) USDA investigation, you need to react swiftly, and you need to rely on the advice and representation of experienced defense counsel. You can contact us 24/7 to speak with one of our senior federal defense attorneys in confidence.
FAQs: Defending Against USDA Investigations
Q: Why is my company (or why am I personally) being targeted by the USDA?
The USDA routinely conducts inspections and investigations focused on ensuring federal compliance. Agencies within the USDA such as the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) conduct informal inquiries and rely on tips from employees and others, and then they can request formal investigations by the USDA OIG or Investigative and Enforcement Services (IES).
If you or your company is facing a USDA investigation, it could be the result of various triggers. When you engage our firm to represent you, one of our first priorities will be to determine what triggered the investigation, as this will be a key factor that informs our defense strategy.
Q: Do I need to hire a federal defense lawyer for a USDA investigation?
Yes, facing a USDA investigation is a serious matter, and you need to engage experienced federal defense counsel to represent you or your company. In many cases, the USDA will conduct joint law enforcement efforts with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and other agencies—and managing with the scope of the inquiry requires an efficient team of attorneys and former federal agents who are intimately familiar with the laws and procedures involved.
Q: What are the risks involved with facing a USDA investigation?
The risks involved with facing a USDA investigation include fines, restitution, loss of USDA contracts, loss of USDA program eligibility, and other financial penalties. In criminal cases, individuals charged with violating federal law can also face substantial terms of imprisonment.
Q: Can the USDA pursue criminal charges against individuals?
Yes, in many cases USDA investigations will have the potential to lead to criminal charges. If you are at risk for being charged criminally, a key component of your defense strategy may involve challenging the government’s evidence of intent. Generally speaking, criminal culpability requires intentional misconduct; and, if you did not know that you were in violation of the law, this may be enough to save you from criminal fines and prison time.
Q: What factors should I consider when choosing defense counsel for a USDA investigation?
When choosing defense counsel for a USDA investigation, it is imperative that you choose a law firm with attorneys who have extensive experience in federal investigations. Ideally, this includes experience on both sides of high-stakes government inquiries. At Oberheiden P.C., several of our attorneys previously served in the DOJ and U.S. Attorney’s Offices across the country, and we also have former federal agents available to consult with our clients during their USDA investigations.
Speak with a Senior Federal Defense Attorney about Your USDA Investigation
Is your company (or are you personally) facing a USDA investigation? If so, you need to speak with a federal defense lawyer as soon as possible. To schedule a free and confidential consultation with one of our former federal prosecutors, call 888-680-1745 or tell us about your investigation online now.