Former co-op manager charged with fraud
The charge follows a West Central lawsuit that accuses a Lake View farmer of paying bribes of $479,000
October 17, 2013
The former West Central Cooperative employee who allegedly took dozens of bribes worth more than $479,000 in exchange for steep discounts on crop seed and other products, is expected to plead guilty today to a federal charge of wire fraud, court records show.
Chad A. Hartzler, 45, of Ames, took nearly 40 bribes over the course of five years from farmer Bill Wollesen, of Lake View, according to state and federal court records. Hartzler was a gambling addict who used the money to bet on sports games.
Wollesen has denied he bribed Hartzler.
Hartzler confessed to the bribes-for-discounts scheme in 2011 as it became more difficult for him to conceal it from West Central auditors in Ralston. He allegedly admitted to a West Central attorney that Wollesen first offered him $2,000 cash to get a $6,000 discount on soybean seed in the spring of 2005. Wollesen allegedly made the offer after Hartzler told him about his gambling debts.
"And that was the first time that I - that was like biting the apple," Hartzler told the lawyer, according to a transcript of the talk. "I just sold my soul at that point."
Hartzler said he gave discounts to Wollesen of up to 37 percent on seed corn and 25 percent on fertilizer, and that Wollesen sold some of the seed corn - without the proper license from seed giant Monsanto - to other area farmers at an inflated rate that was still cheaper than what they would have paid West Central.
Most of the alleged bribes were paid by check, which led to the federal wire fraud charge. Prosecutors say the bribery money crossed state lines - making it a federal crime - because the deposited checks were processed electronically through a Federal Reserve office in Chicago.
Each of the payments were typically of several thousand dollars, but the largest was $45,000, according to state court documents.
Hartzler has cooperated with West Central in a complex 2-year-old lawsuit against Wollesen, in which banks that loaned millions of dollars to Wollesen for his large farm operation - Hartzler estimated that Wollesen farmed 7,500 acres - have staked claims of first right to payment from Wollesen if he is ordered to pay West Central.
The lawsuit is set for trial in Story County in July. It's unclear how much compensation West Central seeks for the alleged scheme.
Hartzler was charged last week with wire fraud, which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Public court records do not reveal what deal Hartzler made with prosecutors.
Wollesen has not been charged with a crime.
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