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Huber fights USDA

Renee Huber's legal problems with the Department of Agriculture didn't end with her husband's 2002 conviction for farm fraud. The Wimbledon, N.D., woman says the USDA recently overstepped its bounds when it suspended her from selling federally ba...

Renee Huber's legal problems with the Department of Agriculture didn't end with her husband's 2002 conviction for farm fraud.

The Wimbledon, N.D., woman says the USDA recently overstepped its bounds when it suspended her from selling federally backed crop insurance.

"It makes you very fearful of the government," Renee Huber said Thursday. "Now they're coming after me.

"It shouldn't be that way," she said.

The suspension, she believes, is the government's attempt at dealing out punishment.

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A federal judge in Fargo agrees.

U.S. District Judge Rodney Webb temporarily prohibited the USDA's Risk Management Agency from suspending Renee Huber during a recent court hearing in Grand Forks.

Webb questioned the timing of Huber's suspension. She was notified by letter March 8, six days before farmers' deadline to insure 2004 crops.

"This smacks of vengeance," Webb said, according to court transcripts. "This smacks of an attitude of punishment."

The RMA didn't suspend Huber until the eleventh hour when "the impact on Renee was maximized and the protection to the public was minimized," said Huber's attorney Alexander Reichert.

Webb ordered the suspension be voided pending the outcome of an administrative hearing.

Risk Management Agency Director Ross Davidson Jr. sent Renee Huber a letter March 2 saying her right to sell federal crop insurance was suspended because she's part owner of two companies that, along with Duane Huber, were convicted of defrauding the government of millions of dollars in farm program funds and crop insurance benefits.

In the letter, Davidson said Huber's suspension began March 2.

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"In an effort to protect the public interest, the federal government has established a policy of only conducting business with responsible persons," he wrote.

Huber received the letter March 8 and filed a complaint the next day in federal court in hopes of getting her suspension nullified.

Davidson wouldn't comment Thursday.

Agency officials don't comment on ongoing investigations or legal actions, said Shirley Pugh, a spokeswoman for the USDA Risk Management Agency.

The government has the authority to suspend Renee Huber before she's given an administrative hearing to protect the public's interest, Assistant U.S. Attorney Shon Hastings said during the hearing.

Webb disagreed, saying Renee Huber hasn't been convicted of a crime and is entitled to due process.

"There is nothing in this letter that indicates they have explored background and determined that she's done something wrong that the public needs to be protected," Webb said.

Huber isn't selling insurance through either of the convicted companies, Huber Farms General Partnership or Huber Farms, Inc., Webb added.

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Duane Huber is serving a five-year prison sentence following his Nov. 27, 2002, conviction on 19 charges, including conspiracy to defraud the United States, filing false income tax returns and money laundering.

Huber, a farmer and crop insurance agent, operated five sham farms between 1994 and 1999 to evade payment limits for federal farm programs.

On paper, four other men claimed to have complete interest in the farms.

But it was Huber who operated them, the jury found.

The arrangement allowed Huber to quadruple his farm program benefits.

Huber also falsified crop insurance claims to collect indemnities to which he was not entitled.

He was ordered to repay the government about $5.9 million.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Jeff Zent at (701) 241-5526

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