BISMARCK, NORTH DAKOTA, U.S. — A U.S. grain trader accused of defrauding at least 60 farmers, grain elevators and grain brokers for more than $11 million pleaded guilty to federal charges of wire fraud and money laundering, the Grand Forks Herald reported.
Hunter Hanson, 22, told the U.S. District judge Daniel Hovland that he “got overwhelmed” in his grain trading business.
Each charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, the assistant U.S. attorney said the federal sentencing guideline range in the case calls for a sentence of 78 to 97 months, six and a half to just over eight years in prison, the newspaper reported.
Hanson also agreed to pay restitution of $11,405,134.72.
In 2018, Hanson operated several businesses including Midwest Grain Trading, a roving grain buyer, and NoDak Grain, a warehouse company. The North Dakota Public Service Commission in November 2018 issued a cease and desist order against Hanson after receiving reports of bounced checks from farmers and elevators, the newspaper said.
The wire charge in the case refers to an Oct. 25, 2018, incident in which a representative of Shafer Commodities in Morden, Manitoba, Canada, e-mailed Hanson to inform him the company had not received an expected wire transfer. Hanson responded, also via e-mail, that his bank had informed him he used the wrong banking account information and that he would resend the money right away. However, documents say that was a lie; Hanson did not send the transfer in the first place and “used wire communications, in the form of email communications, to lull farmers and elevators into a false sense of security.” Shafer Commodities was among the first entities to alert the PSC to Hanson’s businesses, the Grand Forks Herald reported.
The money laundering charge is in relation to Hanson’s pattern of moving money among bank accounts using a practice known as “check kiting,” where someone will write a check with insufficient funds then deposit a check from another account into the first account.