Mon | Sep 23, 2019

Mastermind in 'massive' US organic food fraud scheme gets 10-year sentence

Published:Saturday | August 17, 2019 | 9:59 AM

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) — Randy Constant, the American farmer who masterminded the largest known organic food fraud scheme in the United States (US), has been sentenced to just over ten years in prison.

US District Judge C J Williams yesterday ordered that Constant, 60, serve 122 months in a federal prison for orchestrating what he described as a massive fraud that did “extreme and incalculable damage” to consumers and shook public confidence in the American organic food industry.

Three Nebraska farmers who were recruited into the scheme received shorter sentences.

Michael Potter, 41, was ordered to serve 24 months in prison; James Brennan, 41, was sentenced to 20 months; and his father, Tom Brennan, 71, was given a three-month sentence.

Williams described the three as largely law-abiding citizens, including one “legitimate war hero,” who succumbed to greed when Constant gave them the opportunity.

The judge said the shorter sentence for the elder Brennan reflected his heroism as a decorated platoon leader in the Vietnam War.

All four men pleaded guilty to wire fraud charges and cooperated with a two-year investigation that is still ongoing.

A fifth farmer also pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.

Prosecutors revealed that between 2010 and 2017, consumers in the US were fooled into paying extra to buy products ranging from eggs to steak that they believed were better for the environment and their own health.

Instead, prosecutors say they unwittingly purchased food that relied on farming practises, including the use of chemical pesticides to grow crops.

“Thousands upon thousands of consumers paid for products they did not get and paid for products they did not want,” Williams said.

“This has caused incalculable damage to the confidence the American public has in organic products.”

The judge said the scam also harmed other organic farmers who were playing by the rules but could not compete with the low prices offered by Constant’s Iowa-based grain brokerage and middlemen who unknowingly purchased and marketed tainted organic grain.

Constant and his three co-convicts grew traditional corn and soybeans, mixed them with a small amount of certified organic grains then falsely marketed them all as certified organic by the US Department of Agriculture.

Most of the grains were sold as animal feed to companies that marketed organic meat and meat products.

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