COLUMBIANA, Ohio — A court battle is raging between Witmer’s Feed and Grain and a former employee over allegations of theft by both parties.
Witmer’s Feed and Grain, located on Renkenberger Road, filed a lawsuit in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court last July against Donald Curfman Jr. and his wife Bonnie of Lisbon.
The lawsuit also includes Belinda Ingledue and Richard Curfman, both of Minerva.
Curfman Jr. had worked at Witmer’s since 1993 and retired in March 2008. He served as the manager of Witmer’s Garfield Mill.
According to the lawsuit filed, Curfman is accused of issuing grain tickets to Ingledue without actually receiving any grain from her as part of a scheme to defraud Witmer’s. The alleged thefts are believed to have occurred from 2003 to 2007.
The duo are alleged to have split proceeds totaling more than $900,000.
Curfman is also accused of issuing fake grain tickets to himself between 2004 and 2008 and collecting more than $200,000 in compensation.
The lawsuit says that Witmer’s began questioning Donald Curfman Jr. about the grain shortage in November 2005 after a fake paper trail was allegedly created by Curfman to account for the grain transfers that never happened.
Curfman’s wife and brother are also included in the lawsuit because they are believed to have known about the scheme.
According to the lawsuit, Witmer’s is demanding more than $25,000 in collections and assets owned by Curfman that they believe to have been purchased with the money gained through the alleged scheme. The lawsuit is also seeking assets including a home built in 2006, which according to the Columbiana County auditor’s Web site is valued at $154,200.
Counter lawsuit filed
The court battle doesn’t stop there. Curfman and his wife filed a counter lawsuit against Mike Witmer, president of Witmer’s Feed and Grain, in September 2008, alleging Witmer knew about the scheme and helped carry it out, defrauding farmers.
Curfman alleges he was told to short farmers by Witmer. This included underweighing trucks when they pulled into the grain mill to be dumped or emptied. He said those involved with the scheme would accept money and cash checks and return a portion of it to Witmer.
Curfman said he participated in the scheme with assurance by Witmer that he would not get into trouble for his actions.
Curfman also alleges that Witmer profited from a scheme involving fertilizer. According to a statement issued April 30 by Curfman, he claims that employees were told to mix cheap fertilizer with expensive fertilizer in order to maximize profit. Farmers who requested the expensive fertilizer allegedly did not get what they had requested.
And a third allegation made by Curfman against Witmer included the moisture content of grain. Curfman claims Witmer would adjust the percentage and turn around and make a profit.
“I did it, Witmer did it,” Curfman said. He claims eight people were involved in this alleged scheme.
Curfman said he passed a polygraph test regarding the allegations made.
“I apologize to all who I have hurt by my actions over the past several years while an employee of Witmer’s. I acted upon the guidance and instruction of the president of the company, ” Curfman said in his statement.
In a release issued May 4 by Witmer’s attorney, Alan Wenger, Witmer denies the allegations of being involved in the thefts.
“When it became apparent during the lawsuit that Curfman’s claim could not be substantiated, he chose instead to issue a press release apparently out of spite and revenge, to try to publicly smear this business and businessman,” the statement said.
When asked why the inventory losses were allowed to occur for four years, Wenger said that it was believed to be a software problem with the computers that caused the missing grain inventory. He said software specialists were hired each year for those years but could not find the problem and that’s when the investigation began.
The case is scheduled for mediation September 24 in Youngstown.
In the meantime, the Ohio Department of Agriculture has launched an investigation into the allegations. The ODA is the regulator of all licensed grain handling facilities and completes investigations like this when allegations are made.
The department and the Beaver Township Police Department are jointly handling the case. Neither office could comment further.
[Reporter Andrea Zippay contributed to this report.]