KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI, US — Steven N. Whiteside, 57, of Chillicothe, Missouri, US, on Dec. 21 pleaded guilty in federal court for his role in a $142 million scheme to sell non-organic grain as though it was organic.

Whiteside pleaded guilty to making or giving a false official certificate or writing, a class A misdemeanor punishable by up to 12 months' imprisonment and a fine up to $100,000.

If sentenced, Whiteside would become the sixth individual sentenced in connection with the case, which is the largest organic grain fraud scheme in US history.

Randy Constant, also of Chillicothe, was the leader of the fraud scheme. On Aug. 19, 2019, Constant was sentenced to 10 years and two months in federal prison without parole in a related case that was prosecuted in the Northern District of Iowa. Just a few hours after his sentencing Constant killed himself by carbon monoxide poisoning.

In addition, John Burton of Clarksdale, Missouri, US, and three  farmers from Nebraska (James Brennan, Mike Potter and Tom Brennan) all of whom who supplied Constant with non-organic grain, also were sentenced to federal prison for their roles in the scheme.

According to the US Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Missouri, Constant admitted the fraudulent scheme involved at least $142.4 million in grain sales, with the vast majority of the sales being fraudulent. He told the court that from 2010 to 2017 he misled customers into thinking they were buying certified organic grain when the grain he was selling was not organic.

Constant also admitted that he falsely told customers that the grain he sold was grown on his certified organic fields in Nebraska and Missouri. In reality, the grain was not organic and either had been purchased from other growers, the certified organic fields had been sprayed with unauthorized substances, or organic grain was mixed with non-organic grain.

By pleading guilty on Dec. 21, Whiteside admitted that he signed a document on May 30, 2015, falsely claiming that he owned or farmed certain parcels of land when he actually had no affiliation or control of the property. He also falsely attested in a Land Use History Verification that no chemicals had been used on the property in the preceding three years.