Minnesota farmer charged with $46 million organic grain fraud | Agriculture

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CHRISTOPHER VONDRACEK Minneapolis Star Tribune

Federal prosecutors say a southwest Minnesota farmer received payments of up to $46 million for the sale of conventionally grown corn and soybeans that he told buyers were organic.

Federal prosecutors in Minneapolis announced Monday that a grand jury indicted James Clayton Wolf of Jeffers on wire fraud charges, saying the rural Minnesota farmer was “involved in a scheme” that defrauded grain buyers and denied the farmer’s organic labeling country have undermined system.

An indictment filed in the U.S. District Court for Minnesota says Wolf used chemical fertilizers and pesticides to grow corn and soybeans on his rural Cottonwood County farm between 2014 and 2020, which he later sold as mislabeled organic grain. In other cases, Wolf – who did not have a license to buy grain – bought non-organic grain, which he in turn sold to buyers as organic crops.

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“The fact that the grain was not organically grown was significant to buyers who would not have purchased a grain that was not organically grown,” the grand jury said in its indictment, filed July 7.

While GMO-free seeds are used in organic farming, the organic seal places additional requirements on the cultivation methods. Organic grains are grown without synthetic chemicals or fertilizers and typically fetch higher prices on the market than non-organic crops.

Certification of organic crops is controlled by the federal National Organic Program operated by the US Department of Agriculture.

The grand jury indictment says Wolf’s organic farming certification was revoked in 2020. However, according to the document, Wolf continued to sell non-GMO grain falsely labeled as organic through a “partner”.

In one case, court records show that in October 2020, Wolf corresponded via email with a grain buyer in Pennsylvania to sell “organic corn.”

In a short phone call on Monday, Wolf’s lawyer did not address the specific allegations.

“Mr. Wolf is a 65-year-old professional builder who has never been in trouble,” said attorney Paul Engh. “He has lived a good life and is now seeking justification.”

Wolf is scheduled to appear before a magistrate on July 22.

Wire fraud is a Class C felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison under federal penal guidelines. The Office of US Attorney Andrew Luger, in a press release, noted that the indictment was the result of collaboration between the FBI and the USDA’s Office of the Inspector General.

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