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USDA Denies Appeal In Farm Fraud Case

posted on May 22, 2009

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A man convicted in what prosecutors said was North Dakota's largest farm fraud case has lost another appeal of the government's attempt to collect money from him.

A hearing officer with the federal Agriculture Department's National Appeals Division rejected Duane Huber's latest appeal this month. His attorney, Irv Nodland, said Huber has not decided how to proceed. Officials say he could ask for a review or take the matter to court.

The federal Farm Services Agency, which runs federal farm programs, says Huber and a farm partnership owe farm program payments they received fraudulently from 1995 through 2000. Officials have not disclosed the amount being sought.

The FSA penalties are separate from a 2002 criminal conviction in which Huber was sent to prison and ordered to forfeit nearly $4 million.

Huber, who farmed and worked as an insurance agent in Wimbledon, in southeastern North Dakota, was accused of operating sham farms in the 1990s to exceed federal farm payment limits. He was convicted on 19 charges, including conspiracy to defraud the government, and was sent to a minimum-security prison in Duluth, Minn., in July 2003. He was freed in November 2007.

The FSA state committee — a group of five federally appointed people from around the state — decided earlier in 2007 to seek money from Huber and other members of the farming partnership. Huber unsuccessfully appealed to the committee.

The decision by hearing officer Ronald Stubblefield said the case then went to mediation "for a considerable period of time," but the mediation failed to resolve the dispute.

Stubblefield's ruling does not specifically mention Duane Huber but it does mention his son, Steven. Nodland and Bryan Olschlager, an FSA compliance director in Fargo, confirmed the ruling.

Huber has argued there was no scheme to defraud the government. He also argued that no restitution was ordered in the case.

"The criminal trial dealt with (farm) program payments but also with crop insurance payments, fraudulent tax returns and money laundering," Stubblefield's ruling said. "The jury was not asked to decide the loss suffered by FSA. Therefore, the decision of the jury has no effect on FSA's right ... to recover money wrongly paid to persons who defrauded the agency."

Duane Huber was the only person convicted in the criminal case. Charges against Steven Huber were dismissed for lack of evidence. Other members of the farming partnership — Jeff Greff of Regent, Jamie Schlecht of Wimbledon and Chad Bickett of Carrington — were granted immunity from prosecution.

Tags: agriculture courts fraud news USDA