Feds Shake Down Farmer for Free Raisins

Feds Shake Down Farmer for Free Raisins

A California raisin farmer is facing bankruptcy for defying a law requiring him to give the government a portion of his raisin crop without compensation.  

According to a Washington Post report, Marvin Horne, 68, stopped giving the government his raisins in 2002 and now “owes the U.S. government at least $650,000 in unpaid fines,” in addition to “1.2 million pounds of unpaid raisins, roughly equal to his entire harvest for four years.”

Horne violated Marketing Order 989, passed during the Truman administration, “a federal regulation meant to solve a problem from the era after World War II, which created the national raisin reserve. The program gives the U.S. government a heavy-handed power to interfere with the supply and demand for dried grapes” and takes “away a percentage of every farmer’s raisins” without paying for them. The law has been described as one that gives the government the power to operate a cartel. 

The government can save the raisins, sell them to foreigners, throw them away, or even feed them to animals — so long as they are off the domestic market. 

The Post notes the government can “use those proceeds to pay its own expenses and to promote raisins overseas” in addition to paying for overhead. And in one recent year, the program generated $65,483,211, and all of it was spent. Horne described the program as the “rape of the raisin growers” and said it made him feel like “a serf.”

Brian Leighton, Horne’s lawyer, argued the program was unconstitutional because it “violated the Fifth Amendment clause against private property being taken without just compensation,” since it was “basically theft.”  

The case ultimately reached the Supreme Court in June, and “the justices unanimously ordered a federal appeals court in California to take a new look” at Horne’s claims. 

“If we lose, we’re bankrupt. We won’t have a pot to piss in,” Horne said, noting he would be liable for nearly $3 million. “No. I don’t want to even think about it. Would you?”

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