EUGENE, Ore. - A Springfield man faces up to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to selling millions of pounds of corn falsely labeled "organic."
Harold Chase, 54, pleaded guilty to wire fraud for selling more than 4.2 million pounds of corn, mostly to Grain Millers Inc.
Chase admitted faxing the company paperwork fraudulently claiming that he had purchased organic corn from a U.S. Department of Agriculture certified organic grower in Milton Freewater, Ore.
Sentencing is set Feb. 14, 2012, at 10 a.m. before U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken.
The maximum penalty for wire fraud is 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Prosecutors said Chase used several aliases to conceal his scheme and purchased the organic corn from a variety of conventional corn growers.
By falsely labeling the corn as organic, he doubled his profits, selling the corn for more than $450,000.
Much of the corn was purchased by Oregon companies as organic feed for livestock. Grain Millers unwittingly sold the falsely labeled corn to its customers as certified organic corn, who used the mislabeled corn to produce their organic meat and dairy products, sold to the public as USDA certified organic products.
“The integrity of federal regulatory programs such as USDA’s organics program ensures that consumers not only get what they pay for, but also ensures that the products they purchase are authentic — that is, they are what they say they are and are used accordingly," U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall said. "Violators of such regulations attack the integrity of these programs and will be held accountable.”
"The Office of Inspector General will continue to investigate violations of USDA's Organics program so that consumers can feel confident when they buy agriculture products labeled organic. They deserve to get what they paid for," said Lori Chan, USDA Special Agent in Charge.
This case was the first investigation of its kind in Oregon to result in criminal charges for National Organic Program violations. Nationally, this is the fifth investigation related to National Organic Program that resulted in a Federal indictment."
“USDA organic standards are fundamentally rooted in strict rules. Many organic farmers and processors commit to this system of farming, and the National Organic Program is serious about protecting that commitment,” said Miles McEvoy, Director of the National Organic Program, U.S. Department of Agriculture. “Our mission is to ensure the integrity of USDA organic products in the United States and throughout the world."