Organic food fraud farmer commits suicide ahead of prison

A farmer convicted of the largest organic food fraud case in US history has been found dead at his home.

Randy Constant had already been sentenced to 10 years in a federal prison after being found guilty of masterminding the scam, but appears to have committed suicide shortly after the verdict was announced. He was discovered dead in a vehicle in the garage of his home in Chillicothe, Missouri, on Monday evening.

The 61-year-old farmer was sentenced to 122 months in prison for his part in the fraud, which involved the sale of non-organic corn and soybeans with falsified organic certificates on a massive scale in what has been dubbed the ‘Field of Schemes’.

The produce was mainly sold as feed for livestock, which were sold at a premium consumers as being raised organically, and brought in more than $120m in fraudulent sales between 2010 and 2017.

According to federal prosecutors, Constant’s production amounted to 7 per cent of all organic corn grown in the US in 2016, and 8 per cent of organic soy beans. He had pleaded guilty in December to one count of wire fraud.

“Overall, from 2010 to 2017, Constant sold more than 11,500,000 bushels of grain, over 90 per cent of which was falsely marketed as organic,” said the Department of Justice in a statement. “That amount of grain would fill approximately 3,600 rail cars or 14,375 semi-trailers.”

The case took a sordid turn when it was revealed that Constant used the proceeds from the fraud to fund a lavish lifestyle that included dozens of trips to Las Vegas where he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on gambling and escorts.

“Constant gave over $225,000 to two…women as payment for services, purportedly for their work with his companies, [while] in reality the women did very little of value for Constant’s companies in exchange for the money.”

Three farmers from Nebraska who supplied Constant with non-organic grain – Michael Potter (41), James Brennan (41) and his father Tom Brennan (70) – have also been sentenced to 24, 20 and three months in prison, respectively, for their part in the scam.

The three also pleaded guilty to wire fraud charges last year, admitted to growing grain between 2010 and 2017 that was not organic, often because they had sprayed the grain with chemicals. They collectively received around $10m from Constant in connection with the scam.

A fifth farmer – John Burton (52) from Missouri also pleaded guilty to wire fraud in May and is awaiting sentencing.

Constant had been released on the understanding he would self-report to prison, which is a common practice for white collar criminals who are not seen as dangerous or a flight risk in the US, according to the Associated Press.

In 2018, the US Department of Agriculture published a list of businesses allegedly using fraudulent certificates to claim their products are organic. At last count there were more than 130 suppliers on the list.

A three-month pilot study was also run last year to fund ways to prevent and detect fraud in the country’s organic food chain amid reports of widespread fraud.

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