Judge accepts ConAgra agreement to pay $8.3 million to settle grain case
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ Food giant ConAgra agreed today to pay $8.3 million in fines and restitution for its role in a grain fraud scheme that cost farmers and commercial buyers millions of dollars.
Under a plea agreement accepted by a federal judge, the company will pay $6.14 million in fines and investigation costs.
The Omaha, Neb., company also agreed to pay $1.47 million in restitution to Kentucky soybean growers. It already has delivered $535,0000 in restitution to Indiana farmers. It also will pay $150,000 for costs associated with improper storage of crops.
Federal prosecutors say ConAgra defrauded farmers by improperly grading their grain and cheated commercial buyers by adding water to the grain. They alleged the practice began in 1989. The U.S. Department of Agriculture began its investigation in March 1992.
ConAgra sells everything from seeds to finished products under such brand names as Banquet, Healthy Choice, Hunt’s, Orville Redenbacher’s, Wesson and Chun King. Its sales totaled nearly $25 billion last year.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen Sweeney said the accord has changed the grain industry. ``It held a company responsible for more than the cost of doing business,″ she said.
Mark Enenbach, a ConAgra lawyer, declined to comment after the hearing.
During the proceeding, he had asked Judge Larry McKinney to accept the settlement. He said the company would provide ethics training for its employees and take other steps to prevent a recurrence of the fraud.
McKinney earlier sentenced a former ConAgra manager, Glenn Bussa, to probation for charges he faced for his involvement in the grain scheme. He entered a guilty plea to one count of wire fraud and two of misgrading grain. He was a key witness in the Agriculture Department’s investigation.
ConAgra’s Peavey subsidiary runs grain elevators in Illinois as well as Kentucky and Indiana; prosecutors said the bulk of the victimized farmers were in Kentucky and Indiana.