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Arnaudville cattle rancher pleads guilty to fraudulent COVID claims

U.S. Western District Courthouse
Posted at 11:24 AM, Oct 20, 2021

An Arnaudville cattle rancher has pleaded guilty to accepting more than $70,000 in Coronavirus Food Assistance Program payments to which he was not entitled.

Burnell Gabriel Zachary, 37, in connection with an investigation that started in October 2020.

According to evidence presented by prosecutors, Zachary submitted a fraudulent application for benefits through the Coronavirus Food Assistance program, which was established to provide monetary benefits for agricultural producers whose operations were directly impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic. Eligible producers included those who suffered a 5% or greater decline, or who had losses due to market supply chain disruptions due to COVID-19. The CFAP provided direct relief to livestock producers.

The investigation began when federal agents received information that Zachary filed a fraudulent application. They found that Zachary filed an email application on June 15, 2020 claiming that his livestock business sustained significant losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Zachary made false and fraudulent claims as to his cattle inventory at Zachary’s Ranch, LLC, and received payments from the USDA of over $70,000 due to those claims. Zachary admitted to making the false misrepresentations in the CFAP application and receiving over $70,000 in benefits and depositing them into his checking account.

“The Coronavirus Food Assistance Program and others similar to it were created to assist those who are truly in need of financial assistance following the difficulties that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused,” says Acting U.S. Attorney Alexander C. Van Hook. “When individuals try to defraud the system like this, it takes benefits from others who have suffered genuine losses. COVID-19 fraud is one of the top priorities of this office and we will continue to work with our federal agency partners to hold these defendants accountable for their cheating ways.”

Zachary now faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, 3 years of supervised release, and a fine of up to $250,000.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General, investigated the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Danny Siefker prosecuted the case.

The COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force bolsters efforts to investigate and prosecute the most culpable domestic and international criminal actors and assists agencies tasked with administering relief programs to prevent fraud by, among other methods, augmenting and incorporating existing coordination mechanisms, identifying resources and techniques to uncover fraudulent actors and their schemes, and sharing and harnessing information and insights gained from prior enforcement efforts.

Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form at:
https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.