Lamson, Dugan and Murray, LLP, Attorneys at Law

North Dakota Farmer’s 4 Year Sentence for Insurance Fraud Upheld

Posted in Crop Insurance

Such is the life of a farmer.   Even in times of a good crop, the potential insurance claim may be more valuable than the crop itself.  That may have been the case for Aaron Johnson of Norwood, North Dakota, who in 2014 received a 4 year sentence for receiving crop insurance payments on a potato crop he purposely damaged.

According to court records, Johnson had his hired man spray the potato crop with Rid-X and Flush, add frozen potatoes to the piles, and turning up the heat in the storage facility.  The process caused the potato’s to rot.  Thereafter, Johnson filed an insurance claim.  Unfortunately for Johnson, his hired man became an informant for the government in exchange for cash and leniency on some unrelated criminal charges.  The hired man subsequently turned on the government and informed Johnson of the government’s investigation of Johnson’s fraud.

Despite the hired man’s criminal history and tendency to turn in favor of anybody paying him, the government had enough other evidence to corroborate the hired man’s testimony. The District Court found Johnson guilty of insurance fraud and sentenced him to 4 years under an enhanced sentencing guideline.  Not one to give up without a fight, Johnson appealed the decision to the 8th Circuit Court only to have the decision affirmed on May 4, 2016.

From a legal standpoint, Johnson argued the government’s evidence was insufficient to support the verdict.  Specifically, Johnson claimed no reasonable jury could believe the testimony of the hired man.  However, the 8th Circuit confirmed the credibility of a witness is not an appealable issue.  Furthermore, the government had plenty of other evidence to support the conviction; including Johnson bragging about intentionally destroying his crop.

I’m sure there is a lesson to be learned from all this but I am not sure what it is.  Maybe it is any one of the following;

Be careful who you hire;

Don’t brag about defrauding the government; or maybe

Just don’t commit insurance fraud.

You can find complete details of this almost comical case at U.S. v. Johnson.

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