After a decade of litigation involving hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees, Virginia farmer Martha Boneta has reached a settlement in her $2 million lawsuit against a husband-and-wife team of realtors whom she accused of colluding with an environmental group to drive her off her land.
While the terms of the settlement cannot be disclosed, Boneta is pleased with the outcome of her ordeal. “Justice has been served,” Boneta said triumphantly. “But no American should have to endure ten years of torment. No amount of money can ever make up for the suffering my family and I have had to go through.”
Boneta is the owner of a 64-acre farm located in Fauquier County, Va., about 50 miles west of Washington, D.C. Nestled on the edge of the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains, Liberty Farm, as her property is known, has been painstakingly restored by Boneta, whose family purchased it in 2006. In addition to producing a variety of crops, the property serves as an animal-rescue farm, providing a home for sheep, goats, alpacas, emus, llamas, and other animals.
But casting a dark shadow over Liberty Farm have been efforts by well-connected people who, she believes, coveted her land. In her lawsuit against Phil and Patricia Thomas, Boneta accused the pair of malicious interference in her business, relentless harassment, and a host of other disturbing actions. Phil Thomas is owner of Thomas & Talbot Real Estate in high-end Middleburg, Va.; Patricia Thomas is principal broker with the firm and an attorney licensed to practice in the Old Dominion.
Targeting her Mortgage
Court records in Fauquier County show that the realtors colluded with an environmental group and government officials to purchase the farmer’s mortgage and otherwise meddle with her mortgage, including contacting the lender several times demanding that it sell her mortgage to the realtors. Court records also show that the realtors contacted various government agencies demanding that they investigate Boneta for such activities as carving pumpkins on her farm, hosting hay rides, and allowing visitors to pick their own vegetables. Records also reveal that Patricia Thomas used her law firm’s letterhead in letters to government officials urging them to take action against Boneta.
To avoid her communications from coming to light under the Freedom of Information Act, Thomas, court records show, sent packages with documents she obtained using her Virginia realtor license to the residences of government officials. These documents included Boneta’s banking records.
In one bizarre incident, court records show that Patricia Thomas called 911 one winter day claiming that Boneta’s cattle were freezing, requiring authorities to spend taxpayer funds to send inspector to her farm, only to find that the animals were in good care. More details on the harassment of Boneta can be found here.
Such was the demonization of Boneta that she was forced to shut down her farm in 2012. But public outrage over her mistreatment led in 2014 to enactment of legislation – known as the “Boneta Bill” — in the Virginia General Assembly that provided additional protection to farmers and enabled her farm to reopen.
Boneta has also filed suit against the Warrenton, Va.-based Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC), in which she accuses the group of colluding the Thomases and of abusing its oversight of a conservation easement the PEC holds on her farm. That suit is still pending, and the future of the PEC’s oversight of the conservation easement remains in doubt.
“Fight for the American Dream”
What is not in doubt is that, in coming out swinging against the Thomases and the PEC, Martha Boneta has shown that the little guy or gal can fight back and win. Thanks to the example she has set, Boneta was named as one of the nation’s most amazing women by Country Women magazine. Two film documentaries – “Farming in Fear” and “Unsung Hero” have been made about her struggle to hold on to her farm.
“No matter how long it takes, stand you ground, and justice will be served,” she says. “When the bad guys try to steal your land and everything you have worked for your entire life, dig in your heels and fight for the American Dream.”