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MONDAY - January 9, 2012

Farmers On the Take


County News

RALEIGH - United States Attorney Thomas G. Walker announced that in federal court today STEVEN M. HARDWICK, 53, pled guilty before United State District Judge James C. Dever III, to conspiring to make false statements, to make material false statements, and to commit mail fraud and wire fraud, all in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371 and aiding and abetting the making of false statement in connection with the Federal Crop Insurance Program, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1014.

According to the investigation, which stems from an ongoing crop insurance investigation, HARDWICK allowed his name to be used in connection with federal crop insurance and tobacco contracts to facilitate the sale of hidden tobacco. The Criminal Information, filed on September 16, 2011, alleges that HARDWICK, maintaining dual residences in Clarendon, North Carolina, and Nichols, South Carolina, owned and operated a sole proprietorship which engaged in the business of tree spraying and planting.

The Information goes on to allege, an unnamed farmer devised the scheme to defraud the government and recruited HARDWICK and others to act as nominee farmers, obtaining federal crop insurance policies in their own names for certain crops, even though they did not engage in any farming. From September, 2006, to June, 2010, HARDWICK and others executed applications for crop insurance for tobacco, soybeans, and peanuts, falsely declaring the crop to be their own. HARDWICK and others secured identifying information for various persons in the community, executing contracts with tobacco companies using the stolen names and identifying information. HARDWICK and other co-conspirators secured flue-cured tobacco marketing agreements in their own names even though they were not the bona fide producer of the crop. The unnamed farmer sold his tobacco and other crops on contracts written in the names of other co-conspirators or unknowing victims, profiting under the scheme by being paid twice for each pound of tobacco. HARDWICK and other co-conspirators profited under the scheme because they were paid for the use of their names on the contracts.

Mr. Walker commented: “The Federal Crop Insurance Program was designed by Congress to provide a safety net for the nation’s farmers in order to minimize the risks they face year-to-year. Crimes like the one committed here risk the solvency of the program and potentially deny our farmers the safety net Congress sought to provide.”

IRS-Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Jeannine A. Hammettstated, “IRS Criminal Investigation stands ready to pursue individuals who manipulate governmental programs to line their own pockets. A fraud of this magnitude requires a coordinated effort among law enforcement agencies to stop those involved from profiting from their wrongdoing.”

At sentencing, set for April 16, 2012, HARDWICK faces at total of up to 35 years’ imprisonment.

Investigation of this case was conducted by the Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigations; the United States Department of Agriculture - Office of Inspector General, Investigations; and the United States Department of Agriculture - Risk Management Agency, Special Investigations Branch. Assistant United States Attorney Banumathi Rangarajan is serving as prosecutor for the government.

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Williamson Powell  
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