Jerome Robert Hennessey, the former manager of grain stockpiler Ashby Farmers Co-Operative Elevator Company, pled guilty this week to one count of mail fraud and one count of tax evasion. Hennessey, a 56-year-old Dalton resident, was charged with the offenses on December 18, following a collaborative investigation by the Internal Revenue Service, Grant County Sheriff’s Office, and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
Evidence compiled during the investigation, plus Hennessey’s plea, reveal that from 2003 through September 2018, Hennessey stole approximately $5,338,922 from the co-op.
Using his position – which involved overseeing the co-op’s day-to-day activities, controlling the bank account, and obtaining loans for the business – Hennessey was able to siphon money from the company for his own personal uses.
Hennessey wrote checks to himself and third parties, for things including renovations to his homes, buying personal real estate and all-terrain vehicles, paying off outstanding credit card balances and paying property taxes, taking expensive hunting trips, and paying for taxidermy services.
He tried to disguise the payments by writing false applications of the money on the carbon copies of the checks. He’d claim the checks went toward purchasing corn and soybeans, or other operating expenses and supplies.
The carbon copies he provided to the co-op’s bookkeeper, along with the fact that he secured a line of credit for more than $7 million to in essence replace the funds he had stolen, helped cover Hennessey’s tracks.
After Hennessey’s actions were discovered, the elevator was temporarily closed, according to Agweek, and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture advised any farmers who had not received payment from or had grain stored in the co-op to file a bond claim with the department. The elevator has since been taken over by Wheaton-Dumont Cooperative Elevator, as Ashby continues to deal with the impact of Hennessey’s theft.
Although it was believed he skipped town in September, Hennessey’s lawyer said he left the state, but never the country, and Hennessey ultimately turned himself into the authorities in early December, the Star Tribune reported.
Hennessey submitted his guilty plea Friday before Chief Judge John R. Tunheim in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis with Assistant U.S. Attorney John Kokkinen serving as prosecutor on the case.