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5th person sentenced in organic fraud scheme

Missouri farmer John Burton has been sentenced in the largest known organic food fraud scheme in U.S. history.

Jason Morrison |

Missouri farmer to serve 22 months for his role in the largest organic fraud case in US history

A fifth person has been sentenced in the largest known organic food fraud scheme in U.S. history.

Missouri farmer John Burton was sentenced October 28 to serve 22 months in prison for his role in the case, as well as forfeit more than $1 million in profits and pay a $100,000 fine. He pleaded guilty in May to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

Prosecutors say Burton knowingly grew non-organic grain, then sold it to Missouri farmer and businessman Randy Constant, who marketed and sold the grain as organic. Burton also worked for Constant, using chemicals and fertilizers that are not allowed in organic systems.

“Evidence at sentencing showed that Burton grew grain that was not organic and sold it to Randy Constant, knowing that Constant was going to market and sell the grain as organic,” said the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Iowa. “By selling his grain to Constant, Burton was able to receive a premium, selling the grain for more than he could have on the open market. Burton also worked for Constant, raising grain on farm fields that Constant either owned or rented. While doing this work, Burton often sprayed Constant’s fields with chemicals and fertilizers, even though he knew those substances were not allowed on organic fields. Burton either sold or raised over $5,000,000 in crops for Constant. Overall, Constant’s scheme involved at least $142,433,475 in grain sales, and the vast majority of those sales were fraudulent in that the grain he sold was not organic even though it was marketed as organic.”

Previous convictions in the case

In August, four days after he was sentenced to serve 122 months in federal prison, Constant died by suicide.

Constant was owner of Organic Land Management, which held U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) certificates to produce organic corn and soybeans in Missouri and Nebraska. He also owned Jericho Solutions, of Ossian, Iowa, which sold and marketed grain labeled as organic to customers nationwide.

According to court documents, Constant told his customers his grain had been grown on his farms in Missouri and Nebraska and was certified organic. But the documents allege that 90% of the grain was non-organic and that he either grew it himself elsewhere or bought it from other non-organic farmers. Court documents also say Constant was aware that farmers he purchased the grain from used substances like pesticides and nitrogen to grow their crops.

Constant sold more than $142.4 million worth of falsely marketed grain to at least 10 customers across the U.S between 2010 and 2017. The entire scheme allegedly began at least as early as 2004. In mid-2017, Constant voluntarily surrendered his certificate to operate in the USDA’s National Organic Program.

Three Nebraska farmers who sold their crops to Constant and pleaded guilty to their roles in the scheme were given shorter prison terms.

Michael Potter, 41, was sentenced to 24 months in prison; James Brennan, 41, was sentenced to 20 months; and Tom Brennan, 71, was sentenced to three months.

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