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Ex-Cargill employee indicted in extensive bribery scheme

A former Cargill employee has been indicted on conspiracy and wire fraud charges for his role in an extensive bribery and kickback scheme that defrauded the company.

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Former senior employee charged with conspiracy and wire fraud

A former Cargill employee has been indicted on conspiracy and wire fraud charges for his role in an extensive bribery and kickback scheme that defrauded the company, according to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).

A federal grand jury in Charlotte, North Carolina, indicted Michael A. Kennedy, 55, of Charlotte, on conspiracy and honest services wire fraud charges, for his role in the alleged crimes.

According to allegations in the indictment, Kennedy was a senior employee within Cargill’s division of strategic sourcing. Choung “Shawn” Nguyen was a procurement manager within the same division and reported to Kennedy. Brian Ewert was co-owner and primary sales representative of WDS Inc., also known as Women’s Distribution Services Inc. (WDS), a South Carolina-based company that provided non-raw materials and services to Cargill and its affiliates.

The DOJ said that, according to allegations in the indictment and information contained in filed court documents in related cases, from 2009 to 2016, Kennedy conspired with Ewert, Nguyen and others to carry out a fraudulent bribery and kickback scheme. The indictment alleges that, during the course of the scheme, Ewert provided Kennedy and Nguyen and other Cargill employees with more than US$1 million in cash, gifts and vacations, in exchange for them, among other things, putting the interests of WDS, and other companies Ewert controlled, ahead of Cargill’s, including by helping to conceal the fact that WDS was overcharging Cargill.

The indictment alleges that, as part of the conspiracy, Ewert provided Kennedy and his family with lavish trips that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, including trips to the Caribbean on Ewert’s private jet and luxury yacht rentals to entertain Kennedy and his family. Ewert also paid for Kennedy and his family to go to Disney World and took them on ski trips. The indictment alleges that Kennedy and others concealed from Cargill the fact that they had received from Ewert the illicit bribes and kickbacks, in breach of their fiduciary duties to Cargill.

As alleged in the indictment, in early 2016, after others within Cargill began questioning the relationship between WDS and Cargill, Kennedy, Ewert, and others took numerous steps to conceal from Cargill significant overcharging of Cargill by WDS. Cargill eventually discovered the scheme and terminated its relationship with WDS and Ewert and fired Kennedy and Nguyen.

The charges in the indictment each carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

In November 2019, Ewert, Nguyen and Jennifer Maier, the co-owner and CEO of WDS, were sentenced to 60, 41 and 24 months in prison, respectively, for defrauding Cargill.

In an unrelated case in November 2016, a former accounting manager for Cargill has pleaded guilty to stealing $3.1 million from the company and causing the company at least $25 million in losses.

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