Two of three men indicted on 14 counts of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and making false statements to attain loans and crop insurance for Decatur, Michigan-based Stamp Farms LLC, have been sentenced to prison time. They have been ordered to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in restitution as a result of reaching plea agreements.
According to court documents filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Western Michigan, James Leonard Becraft, Jr. pleaded guilty to conspiracy to make false statements on crop insurance forms. On Feb. 12, he was sentenced to a year in prison, a two-year supervised release and ordered to pay $648,188 in restitution to the Risk Management Agency in Kansas City, Missouri.
Douglas Edward Diekman pleaded guilty to conspiracy to make false statements on crop insurance forms. On Dec. 20, 2018, Diekman was sentenced to 13 months in prison, a two-year supervised release and ordered to pay $488,432 in restitution — $409,403 to RMA and $79,029 to the Farm Service Agency in Kansas City.
On Dec. 13, 2017, a grand jury handed down an indictment of Becraft, Diekman and Michael Stamp in connection with the Stamp Farms Chapter 11 bankruptcy filed in November 2012. The bank found Stamp Farms in noncompliance on loan agreements, including working capital and other ratios. Michael Stamp is the former owner of the farm. Stamp’s case has yet to be resolved, as a hearing was scheduled for Tuesday in Michigan.
Stamp and Becraft originally pleaded not guilty in January 2018, according to court records, after being arrested by Internal Revenue Service agents on Jan. 18, 2018. According to the indictment, the losses alleged in the fraud total about $60.5 million.
Becraft agreed to cooperate with federal authorities on the investigation into Stamp Farms, as part of the plea agreement.
Expansion Fueled By High Land Rental Rates
According to court documents in Stamp’s individual bankruptcy case, Wells Fargo claimed it had made a $68 million loan in December 2011 based on representations that Stamp Farms and its affiliates farmed 46,000 acres. Audits later could uncover only about 27,000 acres, the bank claimed.
Stamp Farms’ assets eventually were auctioned off to Dennis Boersen, the owner of Zeeland, Michigan-based Boersen Farms. Boersen Farms has also faced financial difficulties. The 80,000-acre corn and soybean operation had been sued by CHS Capital LLC, for defaulting on $145.3 million in loans. A newly formed Zeeland-based lender, LT Capital LLC, agreed to take on the debt on Oct. 4, 2017, with plans to dismiss the lawsuit.
The indictment said Stamp rapidly increased the number of acres the company farmed by acquiring agricultural land leases from landowners in southwest Michigan, “often by paying above-market rates.”
Over the years, Stamp relied on “large” operating loans and credit agreements. In addition, the indictment said Stamp used crop insurance payments to pay for some of his operation, including covering lease payments.
Starting in 2011, Stamp needed money to keep his farm going and to pay off an outstanding loan. Between March and December, Stamp allegedly provided false information to obtain about $68 million in credit from Wells Fargo by misrepresenting the amount of land he farmed and the value of his farming assets, the grand jury said.
A Jolt To Southwestern Michigan
According to the indictment, when the bank extended his credit, Stamp allegedly continued to provide false information about his operation. In addition, Stamp allegedly submitted false claims to the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation in order to get crop insurance payments.
AgFax Weed Solutions
Stamp is alleged to have conspired with Becraft and Diekman, in particular, to “defraud the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation and its reinsurers,” the indictment said.
In June 2015, Stamp’s wife, Melissa Stamp, was sentenced to 20 months in jail and 20 months of supervised release, and was also required to pay $184,500 in restitution and had to forfeit $151,915 as part of a plea agreement with federal authorities for her role in bankruptcy fraud.
According to a news release from the U.S. Department of Justice, at the time of her guilty plea, Melissa Stamp admitted to giving $75,000 to her brother and about $90,000 to her father to conceal the money from a bankruptcy case that was filed one month later by her husband. She also admitted to concealing $50,000 in a safe in her home, according to DOJ, but none of the money was disclosed to the bankruptcy court.
The Stamp Farms bankruptcy case left southwestern Michigan landowners and creditors jolted by what legal experts believe was, at the time, the largest grain farm bankruptcy in U.S. history.
- Todd Neeley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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