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2 charged in alleged theft of $4.8 million worth of canola

Two men allegedly stole hundreds of thousands of tons of canola from shipments and sold the product for a windfall.

Weyo |

Court documents say 2 men stole from international food processors from 2015 through 2017

Two California men have been charged in connection with the alleged theft of US$4.8 million worth of canola used in cattle feed, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California.

A federal grand jury returned a multiple-count indictment against Richard Best, 68, of Fresno, California, and Shawn Sawa, 46, formerly of Clovis, California, charging them with conspiracy and wire fraud.

According to court documents, from 2015 through 2017, Best and Sawa stole US$4.8 million worth of canola from international food processors, which they then sold for a windfall.

Best and Sawa carried out the scheme through Best’s now defunct train-to-truck transloading company, Richard Best Transfer Inc. (RBT). The victims sent hundreds of thousands of tons of their canola and other commodities to RBT for delivery to their customers. Sawa was the manager of one of the victim’s branch offices in Fresno and had a close relationship with Best.

Best and Sawa sold the stolen canola through an acquaintance in Texas who used to work in the livestock feed industry. The acquaintance sold the stolen canola to farms and dairies, and distributed the proceeds according to Best’s instructions. This included wire transfers to RBT, Best and Sawa’s bank accounts. The account that Sawa used was opened in his spouse’s name to try to conceal the scheme.

Throughout the scheme, Best and Sawa caused RBT to send fraudulent inventory reports to the victims representing that RBT had certain amounts of their canola in stock when, in fact, RBT had significantly lesser amounts. Whenever the victims began to make inquiries about missing canola, Best and Sawa told them it had been destroyed by bad weather when it had actually been stolen.

Best and Sawa used the proceeds from the scheme to cover RBT’s operating expenses, purchase luxury homes and multiple vehicles, take trips, and hire private karate teachers, among other expenses.

This case is the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Barton is prosecuting the case.

If convicted, Best and Sawa face maximum statutory penalties of 20 years in prison and a US$250,000 fine for each of the conspiracy and wire fraud counts.

The Fresno Bee reported that Best denies the allegations and says he was a victim of extortion from Sawa, who threatened to cut off future business dealings with his employer, Archer Daniels Midland. The same report said Best has filed a lawsuit against ADM and Sawa, alleging fraud, breach of contract and negligent interference with contract, among others.

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