Verndale Farm Service Agency employee indicted for stealing
A 43-year-old Verndale woman was indicted for stealing more than $100,000 in money intended for farm loans to stabilize and support farm income. The indictment against Michelle Richter was filed Monday in United States District Court in St. Paul....
A 43-year-old Verndale woman was indicted for stealing more than $100,000 in money intended for farm loans to stabilize and support farm income.
The indictment against Michelle Richter was filed Monday in United States District Court in St. Paul.
According to the indictment and documents filed in court:
• Richter was a program technician at the Farm Service Agency (FSA) office in Wadena. FSA is a division of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) that manages federal farm loan programs, including loans provided by the Commodity Credit Corporation. In order to qualify for a loan from the Commodity Credit Corporation, farmers must submit a loan application describing the crops being pledged as security for the loan. All loans must be approved by a county executive director at the local FSA office before loan proceeds are distributed.
• As part of Richter's duties, she was responsible for processing FSA loan applications from farmers in Wadena and Hubbard counties. Richter and her husband owned a farm in Wadena County, but she was prohibited from processing loan applications submitted by family members.
• Beginning in December of 2013 and continuing through November of 2014, Richter prepared 16 applications for FSA loans in the name of her husband and pledged crops at her farm as security for those loans, court documents said. However, neither Richter nor her husband signed the agreements pledging the crops as security for the loans, and on some FSA applications, Richter falsely inflated the amount of crops available to support the loans.
• Richter processed the loan applications and approved the loans. In doing so, she ignored FSA conflict-of-interest rules prohibiting her from processing or approving loans to family members, the court document said. Richter asked another FSA employee - who was not aware of either the false statements, that Richter made on the loan applications or that Richter was getting the proceeds of the loans - to help. When the second employee was not available to assist, the defendant processed and approved her own loans by secretly using the computer username and password of the second employee without the second employee's knowledge. Moreover, Richter approved the disbursement of the loan proceeds without the required authorization of the county executive director. To further evade detection, Richter kept the unsigned loan documents on her person and did not file them in the FSA office.
• Richter processed 16 separate FSA loans ranging in amount from $1,389 to $34,733, stealing a total of $108,334 from the FSA during the indicted time period.
This case is the result of an investigation conducted by the USDA Office of the Inspector General.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph H. Thompson.