By Eric Freedman
A federal grand jury has indicted a Minnesota farmer for allegedly cheating buyers of more than $46 million by falsely labeling non-GMO soybeans and corn as organic.
James Wolf, a formerly certified organic farmer, “engaged in a scheme to defraud” grain buyers, from 2014 to 2020,, according to a release by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
He has pleaded not guilty, court records show, and defense lawyer Paul Engh said the next step in the case is pretrial discovery.
“The case is complex. There are thousands of documents,” Engh said.
Here’s what happened as described in the wire fraud indictment:
“Wolf, who did not hold a legally required grain buyer’s license, repeatedly purchased nonorganic corn and soybeans from a grain seller and resold the grain as organic product. As part of his scheme, Wolf also grew conventionally farmed crops using chemical fertilizers and pesticides in violation of organic farming standards.”
The indictment said the buyers would not have purchased grains that weren’t organically farmed. It noted that organic grains can be sold for higher prices than their nonorganic counterparts.
Wolf’s LinkedIn profile identifies him as the owner of Wolf Farms Inc.
He didn’t operate the alleged scheme alone, the indictment said, although the grand jury didn’t charge any companies or other individuals with a crime.
Wolf allegedly used an unnamed associate “to continue the scheme” after the U.S. Department of Agriculture revoked his own organic farming certification in 2020, the indictment said. Unnamed “others” helped Wolf communicate via email and phone with buyers and a grain supplier and Wolf and his “associates” allegedly sent false documentation to customers.
As examples, the indictment cites three emails sent to buyers in Pennsylvania. One was an invoice for organic corn. A second email had an organic certification attached. A third email described the amount due for purportedly organic grain.
The prosecution also wants Wolf to forfeit millions of dollars held in a variety of financial accounts, multiple real estate parcels, tractors, other farm equipment and several vehicles, including two Chevrolet Corvette convertibles.
Both defense lawyer Engh and public affairs officer Tasha Zerna of the U.S. Attorney’s Office said they know of no civil cases by buyers against Wolf.
Meanwhile, Wolf is attempting to persuade a magistrate judge to order the government to temporarily release several pieces of farm equipment it seized so he can use them for harvesting pending trial. He contends that lack of access to the machinery is a hardship.
In a letter to Magistrate Judge Becky Thorson, Engh said the government had previously released two key implements Wolf needed for planting on a temporary basis. They were returned “in the same condition he received them,” he wrote.
“The crops are in the ground and growing – harvest isn’t discretionary,” Engh said.
The charges follow an investigation by the Department of Agriculture’s inspector general and the FBI.