WILMINGTON -- A Wayne County farmer has been charged in federal court with conspiracy to commit various offenses, including fraud, against the U.S., false statements to the Federal Crop Insurance Corp., material false statements to the Farm Service Agency and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
The charges against James Scott Wiggins, 43, of LaGrange, were announced Friday by United States Attorney Robert J. Higdo Jr.
According to the criminal information filed in federal court, Wiggins and other persons worked together to defraud the U.S. through the filing of false federal crop insurance claims and false federal crop disaster relief claims, to structure transactions to evade reporting requirements and to engage in various financial transactions to conceal the fraud.
The charges and allegations contained in the information are merely accusations. The defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law, according to a U.S. Department of Justice press release.
The conspirators owned and rented farmland in Wayne, Lenoir and Greene counties, and produced, among other crops, tobacco, corn, wheat and soybeans.
The conspirators hid some or all of their tobacco and/or grain productions by selling it in nominee names or for cash to a co-conspiring tobacco warehouseman and grain dealers.
Selling in a nominee name means that Wiggins sold his crops that he claimed were damaged in his fraudulent insurance claims in another farmer's name to shield his identity.
The conspirators profited under the scheme because they were paid twice for each pound of tobacco or bushel of grain-- once through the false crop insurance claim and also through the sale of the hidden crop.
Wiggins submitted the false production data in connection with his federal crop disaster claim, thereby getting disaster relief monies to which he was not entitled.
Between 2007 and 2011, Wiggins and his conspirators collectively filed false claims in excess of $5.6 million, according to the release.
The conspirators, among other things, paid farming expenses and outstanding loan balances with the proceeds from their criminal conduct.
"Put very simply, this defendant stole more than $5 million from the taxpayers of this state and this country," Higdon said. "This type of crime is what undermines the solvency of our federal programs and deprives those who need the funds of that support.
"I want to commend the investigators who have pursued these cases for so long. Their effort to protect the public's money is key to the success of programs like the Federal Crop Insurance Program."
The charges in this case stem from the on-going, multi-target crop insurance fraud investigation in the Eastern District of North Carolina.
To date, the office has prosecuted 47 other farmers, agents, and/or adjusters for similar criminal conduct.
Investigation of this case was conducted by the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigations; the U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General, Investigations; and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Risk Management Agency, Special Investigations Branch.
Assistant United States Attorney Banumathi Rangarajan is handling the prosecution on behalf to the Eastern District of North Carolina.