Fugitive elevator manager from Ashby, Minn., faces federal criminal charge
Jerry Hennessey, the fugitive former manager of a small-town Minnesota grain elevator who disappeared after allegedly stealing nearly $5 million from the business, was charged Tuesday with mail fraud.
A criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis charged Hennessey with sending fraudulently obtained money through the U.S. mail.
The 56-year-old, who had managed the elevator for nearly 30 years and has been on the run since September, already faces a lawsuit in state court accusing him of stealing more than $4.9 million from the Ashby Farmers Co-Operative Elevator Co. in Ashby, Minn.
Complaints filed in both state and federal court allege that Hennessey stole from the co-op for 15 years, spending the money on exotic hunting safaris, taxidermy, outdoor gear and personal credit card debt.
Hennessey’s wife, Rebecca, who has been charged in the state case, was not charged in the federal criminal complaint.
That complaint provided detail not mentioned in the state case.
The investigating IRS agent said in an affidavit that Hennessey wrote more than $1.1 million worth of checks directly to himself, including one check for $135,000. According to court documents, Hennessey coded his fraudulent checks as purchases of corn, soybeans and wheat for the co-op.
The federal complaint also shed light on Hennessey’s possible escape plan as his long-running scheme crumbled.
According to court documents, the co-op board called a meeting for Sept. 10 to discuss “suspicious transactions” after a loan to the co-op from a federal agricultural bank went overdue. Hennessey didn’t show up for the board meeting.
Federal investigators later learned that he had gone early that morning to a friend’s home and told the friend he was “in big trouble” and needed help. The friend drove Hennessey to Des Moines and dropped him off on the side of the road.
Once in Des Moines, Hennessey called an acquaintance, identified as P.A., and asked to meet at a motel in the area. According to the complaint, Hennessey told P.A. “that he had gotten greedy and taken a lot of money from his employer.”
Hennessey asked if he could stay at P.A.’s home, but P.A. said no.
The federal complaint also mentions a piece of land that Hennessey bought in the Hinckley, Minn., area. Joey Tromburg sold the roughly 400-acre parcel to Hennessey as deer-hunting land. A check mailed to Tromburg for about $34,000 in partial payment was cited as the basis for the mail fraud charge.
“Very nice, personable guy,” Tromburg said of Hennessey in an interview last week. “He did talk about hunting a lot. You could tell that was his passion. I was told that he owned an elevator company, so I saw checks coming from an elevator co-op and I thought nothing of it.
“I just assumed he was a wealthy person, a passionate hunter — nothing unusual at all.”
When investigators called Tromburg to ask questions about the case, he said he wasn’t quite sure what they were talking about.
“They told me just to Google him,” Tromburg said, “and call back.”
John Reinan • 612-673-7402