CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA — John Burton, from Clarksdale, Mo., was sentenced to 22 months in federal prison on Oct. 28 for his role in perpetrating the largest organic grain fraud scheme in U.S. history.
The prison term handed down by U.S. District Court Judge C.J. Williams follows Mr. Burton’s May 10, 2019, guilty plea to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. In addition to the prison term, Mr. Burton was ordered to forfeit more than $1 million in proceeds from the crime and was ordered to pay a $100,000 fine.
“Evidence at sentencing showed that Burton grew grain that was not organic and sold it to Randy Constant, knowing that Constant was going to market and sell the grain as organic,” said the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Iowa. “By selling his grain to Constant, Burton was able to receive a premium, selling the grain for more than he could have on the open market. Burton also worked for Constant, raising grain on farm fields that Constant either owned or rented. While doing this work, Burton often sprayed Constant’s fields with chemicals and fertilizers, even though he knew those substances were not allowed on organic fields. Burton either sold or raised over $5,000,000 in crops for Constant. Overall, Constant’s scheme involved at least $142,433,475 in grain sales, and the vast majority of those sales were fraudulent in that the grain he sold was not organic even though it was marketed as organic.”
Mr. Constant was sentenced to 122 months on Aug. 16 in federal court in Cedar Rapids. He admitted to the scheme, which involved more than $142 million in grain sales, most of which were fraudulent. Shortly after his sentencing, Mr. Constant died by suicide in his hometown of Chillicothe, Mo.
In addition to Mr. Constant and Mr. Burton, three Nebraska farmers who supplied the grain were sentenced to federal prison.
Sentences for the farmers involved in the scheme were: 20 months for James Brennan, 41; 24 months for Mike Potter, 42; and 3 months for Tom Brennan, 71, whom the sentencing judge referred to as a “legitimate war hero” for his service in Vietnam. Each also was ordered to forfeit $1 million in proceeds from their crimes.