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Sisters sentenced for scamming Russians over 2,200 tons of bird

March 24, 1997

CLEVELAND (AP) _ Two sisters promised 2,200 tons of frozen chicken but flew the coop with the $882,000 down payment, leaving their broker facing irate Russians who threatened to put his fingers on the chopping block.

They didn’t mean to do it, the sisters maintain, even though they’ve both pleaded guilty.

``We feel it was bad management,″ Berdee Renatte Howard told The Plain Dealer in a jailhouse phone interview published Monday. ``We weren’t the best-managed company, and we see that now.″

Howard, 43, pleaded guilty to wire fraud and perjury charges and is was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison.

Her sister, Cassandra Ruffin, 49, also pleaded guilty and next month will begin a 13-month term next month.

The sisters posed as sales executives for a chicken company three years ago and made a deal with Nathan Hunt, a food broker representing Russian buyers.

Authorities say that, instead of turning around and arranging to ship all that frozen poultry, the sisters pocketed the down payment and used it to travel the world, pay college tuition and buy expensive cats. Investigators have not been able to trace all the money.

``It’s hard to accept they were able to do what they actually did,″ said Assistant U.S. Attorney Dan Aaron Polster. ``They lived on and ran their business on this guy’s money. I think they thought they could get away with it because he was in Russia, a long way away.″

Hunt has testified that his Russian clients, out their down payment and waiting in vain for chicken, started saying things that made him a little nervous.

One man, he said, threatened to cut off one of his little fingers, explaining that the procedure was proven effective in getting people to pay their debts.

Hunt paid back the Russians by borrowing against his inheritance.

The sisters were ordered to pay him $677,000 _ the down payment minus the value of 156 tons of frozen fowl they eventually got around to shipping.

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