Another Farmer Pleads Guilty in $142 Million Organic Grain Fraud

12:45PM May 17, 2019
Department of Justice Grain
A fraud case that has already netted guilty pleas from a grain broker and three Nebraska farmers has also forced a Missouri farmer to plead guilty to involvement in fraudulently selling organic grain.
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A farmer in Missouri is the fifth person to plead guilty in a case that involves fraudulent marketing of organic grain that netted at least $142 million in sales.

According to a press release from the U.S. Justice Department, John Burton, age 52, from Clarksdale, Missouri, entered his plea on May 10 at a federal court in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Burton was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. He admitted that in the conspiracy grain was grown on non-organic fields, then marketed and sold as organic while unapproved substances were used on fields certified as organic.

The guilty plea is part of a wider case involving a brokerage company owned and operated by Randy Constant in Ossian, Iowa, known as Jericho Solutions. Constant, age 61, from Chillicothe, Missouri, had pled guilty on December 20, 2018, to being involved in the organic grain fraud scheme. At least $142 million worth of grain sales were made with majority of sales being fraudulent, and they had been made through Jericho Solutions. As part of Constant’s plea he agreed to forfeit $128,190,128 in proceeds from the fraudulent scheme.

Three other farmers – Tom Brennan, age 70; James Brennan, age 40; and Mike Potter, age 41 – all from Overton, Nebraska, all pled guilty to selling fraudulently marketed organic grain in the scheme. The trio of Nebraska farmers entered their pleas October 12, 2018. During each of their respective hearings, the men all admitted to growing non-organic grain from 2010 to 2017. They admitted to knowing it was being marketed and sold as organic despite being grown using non-organic practices. The three Nebraska farmers are alleged to have received more than $2.5 million each for grain marketed as organic.  

Sentencing is scheduled on August 16, 2019, for Randy Constant, Tom Brennan, James Brennan, and Mike Potter. They will appear before United States District Court Judge C.J. Williams at the United States Courthouse in Cedar Rapids.  All four face a maximum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment, at least a $250,000 fine, and up to three years of supervised release following any imprisonment.

Sentencing will be scheduled for Burton after a presentence report is prepared.  Burton is currently free on bond. Burton could face a maximum sentence of 5 years’ imprisonment, a fine of at least $250,000, and 3 years of supervised release following any imprisonment.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Jake Schunk and Anthony Morfitt and investigated by the United States Department of Agriculture – Office of Inspector General and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

For more on this case read the following stories from AgWeb: