SALEM, Ohio — Five Meigs County men who were charged in May of 2014 with crop insurance fraud have plead guilty in federal court and agreed to forfeit $410,000, and a 2012 John Deere tractor.
They remain on bond pending sentencing, which could carry a maximum of five years in prison, three years of supervised release and fines for each of up to $250,000.
The defendants entered guilty pleas Jan. 16 in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of Ohio, for “conspiracy to defraud the United States.”
Pleading guilty were Christopher T. Wolfe, 43; Terry J. McNickle, 51; Mark D. Wolfe, 41; and Joey L. Jerrell, 43, — all of Racine, Ohio; and Michael L. Johnson, 62, of Portland, Ohio.
According to court records, Wolfe recruited co-conspirators to enroll in the federal Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program for crops that were not planted. His partners would then apply for payments and turn them over to Wolfe after keeping a portion for themselves.
The group faced a host of other charges, including money laundering and theft of public money, but all other charges have been dismissed in exchange for their guilty plea.
The investigation dated back more than two years leading up to the indictment last May, and involved federal authorities, including the Secret Service, according to Fred Alverson, retired law enforcement coordinator for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Columbus.
The Secret Service was involved because of the money laundering charge.
About the program
The Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program provides financial assistance to producers of non-insurable crops when low yields, loss of inventory or prevented planting occur due to a natural disaster. Payments are limited to $100,000 per crop year per individual or entity.
“Government assistance programs … are set up to help people who truly need it, and when individuals try to cheat the system, that takes a lot of time and resources away from helping those farmers or other individuals who need the assistance,” Alverson told Farm and Dairy in May.
Likewise, Jennifer Thornton, Southern District spokesperson, said it’s important to defend the proper use of public money.
“Any time we’re talking about government funds, we take it seriously,” she said. “We’re stewards of the government’s money and we want to make sure it goes to the right people for the right reasons.”
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