Pfaff crop insurance fraud trial delayed 6 months – Agweek

BISMARCK, ND — A federal judge has granted a six-month delay in the jury trial for a farmer Washburn, North Dakota, who is accused of giving false information to the US Department of Agriculture officials for crop insurance compensation.

Kent S. Pfaff has pleaded not guilty to the charges. He is now scheduled to stand trial Oct. 18, 2022.

Farmer Kent Pfaff of Washburn, North Dakota, exits the federal courthouse in Bismarck, North Dakota, on March 3, 2022, after his arraignment in a federal crop insurance fraud case. A trial date was set in late April, but now has been delayed six months to Oct. 18, 2022, in Bismarck.

Mikkel Pates / Agweek

A federal grand jury on Feb. 2, 2022, indicted Pfaff for things they allege he did from Jan. 1, 2017, through June 1, 2022. Pfaff so far only had the opportunity to plead not guilty.

Judge Daniel L. Hovland on March 23, 2022, agreed to “continue” or delay a three-day trial from its original schedule, which was to have been April 19, 2022.

If convicted, Pfaff faces a maximum of 30 years imprisonment, and up to $1 million in fines and five-year supervised release. Pfaff and his wife, Rhonda, farm with sons, Stephen and Zachary, and family friend Chris Stork.

Kent Pfaff walks out of the federal courthouse in Bismarck, ND, led by his legal team.

Farmer Kent Pfaff of Washburn, North Dakota, center, leaves the federal courthouse in Bismarck, North Dakota, on March 3, 2022. His lawyer, Gary R. Leistico, Pfaff’s of St. Cloud, Minn., successfully sought a six-month delay in the trial, now scheduled for Oct. 18, 2022, in Bismarck.

Mikkel Pates / Agweek

Gary R. Leistico, Pfaff’s attorney from St. Cloud, Minn., and Acting US Nicholas W. Chase and Assistant US Attorney Jonathan J. O’Konek, agreed that the proof in the claims are “especially complex,” considering they already have 14,000 pages of discovery to provide to the defendant “and audio files.”

Federal Magistrate Judge Clare R. Hochhalter on March 3, 2022, allowed Pfaff, who farms in the Falkirk North Dakota, area, to remain free on his own recognizance until the trial, and did not collect his passport.

Hochhalter, in releasing Pfaff on his own recognizance, said Pfaff has “substantial assets” and has annual revenues of about $6 million. Pfaff has “all of the things that make you, essentially, a North Dakotan with substantial ties.”

A farmstead with late-model planting and tillage equipment stands at the top of a hill,

Kent Pfaff, head of Pfaff Farms of Washburn, North Dakota, with its base near the village of Falkirk, North Dakota, recently received a six-month delay in his federal crop insurance case, set for a three-day criminal trial starting Oct. 18, 2022, in Bismarck, North Dakota. Photo taken March 3, 2022, near Falkirk, North Dakota.

Mikkel Pates / Agweek

The farm is known as one of the region’s largest, with tens of thousands of acres.

In the indictment filed Feb. 2, 2022, US Attorney Nick Chase said Pfaff gave false statements to influence the US Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency, which handles crop insurance through the Federal Crop Insurance Corp.

Between Jan. 1, 2017, and June 1, 2022. Pfaff, “falsely represented, and caused another to falsely represent information to RMA/FCIC to shift production from different crop fields to manufacture and inflate crop insurance indemnities to which he was not entitled,” the government alleges.

A large, modern farmstead, and its grain bins, stand at the top of a hill in early March snow remnants.  Behind it several miles are the smokestacks of a coal-fired electrical power plant, which is next to an ethanol plant.

Pfaff Farms, left, foreground, is a substantial crop farm in McLean County, which is also the home of coal, electrical generation and ethanol energy. Photo taken March 3, 2022, near Falkirk, North Dakota.

Mikkel Pates / Agweek

“Shifting production is a fraud scheme where a person will overreport production from one or more fields and underreport production from one or more different fields to manufacture or inflate claims to which they are not entitled,” Chase wrote in the indictment.

Chase said that between Dec. 1, 2019, and June 1, 2020, Pfaff knowingly provided false information to Sheldon Crop Insurance Agency, FMH Ag Risk Insurance Co, and Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Company of Iowa, and to a Farmers Mutual Hail insurance adjuster.

A green highway sign says it is 1 mile to Falkirk, North Dakota.

The small village of Falkirk, North Dakota, is near the home base for Pfaff Farms, address Washburn, North Dakota, headed by Kent Pfaff, who faces a federal criminal case involving crop insurance fraud. A power plant and ethanol plant are at right, behind the elevators associated with the village. Photo taken March 3, 2022.

Mikkel Pates / Agweek

Separately, Kent Pfaff is involved in a federal civil case filed Feb. 22, 2022. In that case, WBI Energy Transmission, Inc., suing for eminent domain associated with Pfaff land parcels involved in a natural gas pipeline.

Defendants are Falkirk Mining Co.; Kenneth H. Pfaff (Kent Pfaff’s father) and Kent S. Pfaff, listed as a trustee of the Wanda L. Pfaff Family Trust, created in Sept. 17, 1999, and as a personal representative for the estate of his mother, Wanda L. Pfaff, who died Jan. 6, 2021.

An agreement filed March 17, 2022, will allow the project to move forward but but doesn’t fully settle the “scope of the easement rights” and reserves the rights to “claims relating to compensation.”

The skyline of Falkirk, ND is flanked by smoke from a coal-fired electrical generation plant, associated with the Blue Flint Ethanol plant.

The village of Falkirk, North Dakota, is near the home base for Pfaff Farms, Washburn, North Dakota, headed by Kent Pfaff, who faces a federal criminal case involving crop insurance fraud. A power plant and ethanol plant are at right, behind the elevators associated with the village. Photo taken March 3, 2022.

Mikkel Pates / Agweek

In that case, WBI Transmission claims eminent domain authority in a natural gas pipeline for WBI Energy. WBI will install 9.67 miles of 8-inch diameter natural gas lateral pipeline to Blue Flint Ethanol’s ethanol plant in McLean County. WBI says its authority comes from the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. A 60-day protest deadline for their eminent domain case ended Oct. 21, 2021.

Three large blue grain conveyors from Pfaff Farms stand, flanked by a large coal-fired electrical generation facility, and the Blue Flint Ethanol plant.

Grain conveyor equipment from the Pfaff Farms of Washburn, North Dakota, is flanked by a power facility near Falkirk, North Dakota. Separate from a criminal case against Kent Pfaff, he is involved in a federal eminent domain case involving a natural gas pipeline to Blue Flint Ethanol. Photo taken March 3, 2022.

Mikkel Pates / Agweek

“Delaying construction will cause increased costs and expenses that WBI Energy cannot recover,” WBI Transmission lawyers argued. “Delaying construction will delay the transportation and delivery of affordable domestic supplies of natural gas more efficiently, delay reduction of flaring of natural gas in North Dakota, and delay compliance with established state-mandated natural gas capture targets,” they said.

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