Ex-North Dakota grain trader signs plea deal in fraud scheme
FARGO, N.D. (AP) — A former North Dakota grain trader who became involved in the business shortly out of high school has signed a plea agreement on accusations he ran a multimillion dollar fraud scheme, according to federal court documents unsealed Monday.
Authorities say Hunter Hanson, of Leeds, bilked about 60 farmers, elevators and commodity brokers in North Dakota, Minnesota and Canada. The deal calls for Hanson, 22, to plead guilty to wire fraud and money laundering and play back about $11.4 million.
The North Dakota Public Service Commission shut down Hanson’s Devils Lake-based businesses last year after it received multiple complaints from farmers and others. The case led state lawmakers, upset that Hanson received a license when he allegedly had no grain marketing training or experience, to transfer grain regulatory authority from the PSC to the state Agriculture Department.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan O’Konek said in a statement that his office is committed to investigating white collar crimes and Hanson “will be held accountable for his actions.” Hanson faces a total of 40 years in prison on the two counts.
Defense attorney Lucas Wynne did not immediately return a phone message Monday seeking comment.
Court documents show that Hanson contracted with farmers and grain elevators last year to buy crops and either failed to pay them or sent them checks that bounced. He is accused of laundering money between his multiple bank accounts and other businesses. In 2018 Hanson had 11 identified bank accounts associated with his businesses, according to the investigation.
The plea agreement said Hanson would “lull farmers into a false sense of security” by lying about his business in emails, in one case telling a Morden, Manitoba commodities broker that the bank told Hanson he had the wrong account number and he would sent the wire transfer as soon as possible.
Hanson often bought crops from farmers and elevators above the per-bushel market value and then sold them below market value, in order to further the Ponzi scheme. In doing that, Hanson lost more than $131,000 in transactions between McClusky Coop Elevator and Osnabrock Farmers Coop Elevator, documents show. At one point the bank account of Hanson’s Midwest Grain Trading company was in the red by more than $460,000.
A change of plea hearing is scheduled July 30 in Bismarck.