It has been more than two years since Mike Stamp filed for bankruptcy, but the repercussions continue even today.
Stamp was an ambitious farmer in Decatur, Mich. A self-described "full-circle farmer," he revitalized the local rail line and purchased and upgraded Northstar Grain, a historic feed mill and grain storage facility. These investments allowed area farmers to increase their shipping options and improve margins – a move that earned him a spot as a 2012 Top Producer of the Year finalist.
But then, an ugly twist — Stamp Farms Trucking, Stamp Farms Custom Ag and Royal Star Farms—all owned by the Stamp family — filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Nov. 30, 2012. Estimated liabilities exceed $50 million, with more than 200 creditors cited in the filings.
A subsequent restraining order filed by Wells Fargo Bank alleged that Stamp Farms was selling grain and other collateral to Southstar, Eaststar and Weststar Farms, as well as Backroads Land Company—all Stamp family entities. The complaint was dismissed a week later for unknown reasons, but the story didn’t end there.
In 2013, Cargill announced it had acquired Northstar Grain LLC, and two separate auctions saw Stamp’s farm assets go to area farmer Dennis Boersen for $22.8 million and nearly 2,000 tillable farmland acres to an Indiana investment group for $16.475 million.
Also in 2013, the U.S. opened a criminal investigation into Stamp Farms for possible fraud. The investigation has been conducted by the U.S. Secret Service, IRS Criminal Investigations and the Inspector General for the USDA.
In December 2014, Mike's wife Melissa pleaded guilty to one felony charge of concealing assets. The indictment alleges that in October 2012, Melissa gave several checks to her brother and father totaling more than $160,000 that was not disclosed to the bankruptcy court.
Melissa Stamp is scheduled to be sentenced April 15, 2015. According to the plea agreement, the maximum penalty could be up to $250,000 and five years in prison.
Then, on March 11, 2015, three Stamp Farms employees were indicted on conspiracy to commit bankruptcy fraud. Specifically, the indictment alleges Robert Trowbridge, Andrew Trowbridge and Larry Stambeck conspired to commit bankruptcy fraud, to commit crop insurance fraud by making false claims, to financially benefit from this conspiracy and to make false statements if questioned.
Multiple allegations of fraud include:
- $50,000 in crop insurance checks that should have been disclosed in the bankruptcy court proceedings.
- Two falsified IRS Form 1099 saying that $150,000 in rent had been paid, when it had not.
- A pulling tractor and its parts and accessories, valued at more than $100,000 were stored on Andrew Trowbridge’s farm, the location of which was not disclosed during the bankruptcy case.
- Harvested grain that normally would have been stored at Northstar Grain in Decatur was diverted 47 miles north to a different elevator in Hamilton, Mich.
- Various charges of perjury during the aforementioned bankruptcy case.
“Through 2012, [the defendants] were employees of and friends with Michael Stamp,” according to the court filing. “As a result they knew that [he] was in financial trouble; that [he] was unable to pay his bills; that [he] had filed a bankruptcy in his own name; and that bankruptcy cases had been filed in the name of his former corporate farming business.”
At the time of this writing, a trial date has not been set for these three individuals. Nor have any charges been filed against Mike Stamp to-date. Attempts today to contact Mike Stamp and his lawyer were unsuccessful.
Farm Journal Media will continue to report updates as they unfold.