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Co-op seeking access to inventory taxidermy, property

Erik Ahlgren of Fergus Falls, Minn., an attorney for Ashby (Minn.) Farmers Elevator Cooperative, asked for an expedited order to allow him to go onto former manager Jerry Hennessey’s homestead to inventory its taxidermy, equipment and other items for potential recovery in the wake of nearly $5 million in unauthorized checks. Photo taken Nov. 6, 2018, at Elbow Lake, Minn. (Forum News Service/Agweek/Mikkel Pates)1 / 2
The Ashby (Minn.) Farmers Elevator Cooperative efforts to recover money from their former general manager, Jerry Hennessey, and his wife, Becky, are being handled in Grant County’s historic courthouse in Elbow Lake, Minn. Photo taken Nov. 6, 2018, at Elbow Lake, Minn. (Forum News Service/Agweek/Mikkel Pates)2 / 2

ELBOW LAKE, Minn. -- The defunct Ashby (Minn.) Farmers Elevator has formally asked a court for permission to enter the property of its former general manager, Jerry Hennessey, to start inventorying taxidermy and other property in the wake of a multi-million-dollar embezzlement accusation that toppled the company.

Hennessey’s wife, Rebecca “Becky” Hennessey, already has agreed to allow the co-op access to inventory property. He said that may happen as early as Nov. 12.

Recovering value from the Hennesseys for co-op members is a process that could take months or more than a year, said Erik Ahlgren, the Fergus Falls, Minn., lawyer for the co-op.

At the Nov. 6 hearing, Eighth Circuit District Judge Amy Doll in Grant County said she would sign the order granting access to the Hennessy property.

Ahlgren told Doll the co-op has increased its estimate of unauthorized checks by $50,000 to $4.95 million before Hennessey fled the region.

‘House of cards’

“I believe the reason he fled is that there was absolutely no defense” for the checks, and that they were intentional theft, Ahlgren said. He said it may be possible that Hennessey will still attempt to sell assets.

“I strongly suspect that he secreted away some cash,” Ahlgren said during the court hearing. “He knew that this was coming down. He had first been given notice by CoBank (which had provided financing for the co-op) in early June that they weren’t going to extend their loan as of Sept. 1. So he had at least that three months to realize that this whole house of cards was coming down, and I suspect he was trying to hide assets at that point,” but Ahlgren emphasized he had no proof of that.

Ahlgren declined to elaborate whether he knew why CoBank, a Denver-based part of the Farm Credit System, had called its loan. CoBank officials did not return e-mail requests for an interview on the case or their policies.

Hennessey remains “on the run,” Ahlgren said. He disappeared Sept. 10 and didn’t answer his company-owned cell phone. Other attempts to reach him also have failed.

Becky Hennessey, who filed for divorce Oct. 11, earlier agreed with the co-op request not to sell or transfer her interest in either “real property” (land and attached buildings) or “personal” property (including vehicles, guns and taxidermy).

“We’ve all heard that he has a large taxidermy collection,” Ahlgren said. “Now we’ll be able to see what that consists of.”

He noted that one of the checks Hennessey wrote on the elevator in July 2011 “coded as corn” was for a western “Bad-Boy Buggy,” Ahlgren said. “I’m not exactly sure of what that is, but we’re about to find out,” he said.

The homestead is exempted under Minnesota law. The Hennesseys can protect the home and land only up to $420,000 in value. If the value is higher, the co-op could then sell the property and reimburse the Hennesseys for the exempt amount.

The pending divorce could affect how the co-op pursues that value, Ahlgren acknowledged. Another curveball is that to the extent the co-op can prove that proceeds from the fraud directly went into the homestead, the co-op “may be able to invade that homestead exemption,” Ahlgren said.

Ahlgren is only active in the civil law matters of the case. He had forwarded the facts to local, state and federal law enforcement for possible criminal prosecution. He declined to comment on what he knows about the status of those cases.

In the divorce filed Oct. 11 in Ottertail County, Becky Hennesssy said she didn’t know when the property was purchased jointly and estimated the value at $211,100, based on their property tax statement.

They also own property valued at $640,000 in Kanabec County.

Becky Hennessey did not return messages. Her lawyer, Jeffrey Kuhn, Glenwood, Minn., did not immediately return messages.

Becky graduated from Barnesville (Minn.) High School in 1979. Jerry graduated from the same school in 1980. The couple were married Oct. 17, 1981, in Barnesville.

Jerry worked for his brother-in-law, Tim Bolgrean, who was managing an elevator at Hoffman, Minn., before he started as manager at Ashby in 1988 or 1989.

Seeking support

“There has been an irretrievable breakdown of my marriage relationship with (Jerry) and the marriage cannot be saved,” Becky writes in her divorce petition, saying the date that was apparent was Sept. 10, 2018, the day Jerry left the region.

Jerry’s “whereabouts are unknown to Petitioner since Sept. 9, 2018.” She said she has “no source of income and is unable to liquidate assets due to (Jerry’s) unavailability.” She has “no means of supporting herself at this time,” according to the petition. She is requesting $3,500 per month for life. Becky said she wants to change her name to Rebecca Rae Bolgrean, her maiden name.

Becky thought Jerry’s monthly income was $7,000 per month during recent recent years of marriage, or $84,000 annually, although the form didn’t indicate gross or income after taxes. (Other sources indicate Hennessey earned more than $100,000 at the co-op elevator, although officials declined to confirm that.)

Becky indicated she doesn’t own a vehicle and didn’t know whether Jerry does. She said she didn’t know whether Jerry has an interest in any other business. She said she has no retirement accounts and has no pension. She said Jerry has retirement accounts and didn’t know if he had a pension.

Becky said the couple has some debt, including $27,000 Jerry owes on a Cabela’s credit card.