Ore. man sent to prison over organic corn scam

Michael P. Tremoglie Apr. 5, 2012, 11:35am

EUGENE, Ore. (Legal Newsline) - An Oregon corn seller was sentenced Wednesday to 27 months of imprisonment for selling more than 4.2 million pounds of corn falsely labeled as organically grown.

Harold Chase, 55, was alleged to have doubled his profits by purchasing more than 4.2 million pounds of corn from conventional corn growers and claiming that he had purchased organic corn from a U.S. Department of Agriculture certified organic grower.

"This defendant intentionally undermined an entire regulatory scheme out of greed," U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall said. "He defrauded not only several local companies but also countless consumers.

"Federal regulatory programs such as USDA's organics program ensure that products are safe and properly labeled. Consumers are entitled to know what they are eating and feeding their families. Violators of these programs will be prosecuted."

"The Office of Inspector General will continue to investigate criminal violations related to USDA's National Organic Program," USDA Special Agent in Charge Lori Chan said. "Consumers want to feel confident when they buy agriculture products labeled organic. They deserve to get what they paid for."

Chan said it was the first OIG investigation in Oregon that resulted in criminal convictions for NOP violations. Nationally, it is the fifth OIG investigation pertaining to NOP that resulted in a federal indictment or conviction.

"Our mission is to ensure the integrity of USDA organic products in the United States and throughout the world," said Miles McEvoy, National Organic Program Director.

"Organic agriculture uses natural fertilizers and biological pest control that builds soil fertility and produces high quality organic agricultural products. Organic producers and handlers are committed to this system, and the National Organic Program is serious about protecting that commitment. Our enforcement efforts, including onsite investigations, constitute a critical part of that mission.

"This incident reveals why recordkeeping and auditing are such integral components of the organic certification system. We urge certified operations to continue due diligence in reviewing suppliers' records and working with their certifiers closely."

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