By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Smiley suspended Myers for 14 days. That suspension would later be revoked.
In a highly unusual move, Smiley ordered a sweeping review of Myers' office while Myers was away from Yuma. That review was followed by a full-scale audit by the USDA inspector general. (Other than the audit of Myers' office, the inspector general says it has no record of any audits of county FmHA offices in Arizona.)
The primary complaint the auditors came up with against Myers was a loan he made to Sydney Berman, a partner in a California avocado operation. The auditors said the loan was out of Myers' jurisdiction and was made to only one of the partners, and not the actual partnership. Regulations require loans be made to the "owner or operator" of a farm.
But Myers noted--and the inspector general acknowledged--that the regulations did not define "owner," and there was no prohibition on lending to a bordering state. Berman did have FmHA loans for several properties he owned in Arizona. Berman tells New Times that while Myers was criticized for making the loan, the government did not try to void it.
The auditors "did not find any case of fraud, abuse or illegal acts and no information came to our attention which indicated problems with overall compliance." Indeed, David Toll, a Yuma office supervisor after Myers, says all but one of Myers' loans were solid. "He only lost one farm to the government," Toll says. Berman says Myers and he were subjected to "witch hunts" based on race and religion. Berman, who is Jewish, is considering filing discrimination charges against FmHA for subsequent problems he encountered.
Moore, the Yuma County Board of Supervisors member, tried to look into the situation, but couldn't get answers from FmHA. "They were clearly trumping up charges against him," Moore says. "If the charges had merit, he wouldn't still be around. Obviously, something was wrong with their investigation."
@body:After Myers' Yuma authority was revoked, state director Smiley detailed him to Casa Grande. Myers had his home and wife-to-be in Yuma, and returned there on weekends. But Smiley decided to take charge of Myers' weekends as well, writing that Myers should stay in Casa Grande "thru the weekend to be on the job early Monday morning."
In Casa Grande, Myers was given little or no work to do. He says he was the only worker who didn't have a key to the office or his own phone.
"He basically just had to sit there all day and not do anything, because they didn't give him any work to do," remembers John Hall, a USDA employee who worked nearby. "He wasn't functioning as an employee. He was not allowed to use the telephone. He just sat there and read manuals."
FmHA officials say they took Myers' phone away because he made too many personal calls. While Myers admits making some personal calls, he says he had little else to do. And several other employees acknowledged making personal calls, too.
By now, Myers was furious over his treatment. As he waited for the EEO to investigate, disagreements with his supervisors became more frequent.
In January of 1984, Smiley lowered the boom. He fired Myers on the same day Myers learned his wife was pregnant.
Myers appealed his termination, and the day before his appeal hearing, the government proposed a settlement. The FmHA said Myers would be eligible for reemployment with the agency and that he would get "strong consideration" for any position he sought around the country. Under pressure from his wife, who hoped to leave the state, he signed the agreement. "It sounded like it would give us a fresh start away from the harassment," Myers says.
But when he applied for new positions, the rejection letters began to pour in--ten in all. In Arizona, FmHA offices went so far as to return his applications, although normal procedure was to keep them on file.
Things got tough. He took a job at Circle K. His wife left him. Myers, who had been vigilant about protecting his clients from foreclosure, lost his own home to foreclosure.
"I was sleeping in my van," he says. "I ate bologna."
After a year of rejections from the FmHA, Myers complained to the Merit Systems Protection Board, which hears employment complaints against the federal government. He alleged that the Arizona office was sabotaging his applications and wasn't living up to its agreement.
The merit board investigated and agreed with Myers, finding that Arizona officials had failed to inform other states of its agreement with Myers. Furthermore, the merit board found, one FmHA director in another state reported that Smiley had "recommended strongly" against hiring Myers. The board also found that the Arizona office had hired some whites who had less experience than Myers, who was rated as a GS-11.
In its August 1986 decision, the merit board wrote that Myers should have been hired as supervisor of the county office in Safford. When the post came open in the summer of 1984, Myers was the only applicant. But Smiley had rejected Myers, saying the vacancy would be filled by "another applicant." A day before he sent a rejection letter to Myers, Smiley had informed an assistant supervisor in Yuma, a GS-7 rank who was white, that he was being appointed assistant county supervisor in Safford. In February of 1985, after the employee had put in enough time, Smiley named him Safford supervisor.