Delhi farmer Thomas “Tommy” Dickerson pleaded guilty Monday to making false statements in crop loan applications to the U.S. government to fraudulently obtain some $998,000.
At the U.S. District Courthouse in Monroe, Dickerson signed a plea agreement acknowledging his guilt to two counts of making false statements to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Commodity Credit Corporation.
U.S. District Court Judge Terry Doughty, of Rayville, accepted Dickerson's guilty plea.
The government estimated Dickerson fraudulently obtained a total of at least some $17 million from the government, local banks and other agricultural lending entities in northeastern Louisiana and southern Arkansas.
The government did not move to detain Dickerson. Doughty signed court orders releasing Dickerson on a $50,000 unsecured bond.
U.S. Attorney David Joseph's office charged Dickerson about three weeks ago, through a June 25 bill of information.
“This case should serve as a warning to those who engage in crooked financial schemes,” Joseph said. “The Department of Justice is committed to protecting taxpayer money set aside to help our farmers and prosecuting those who cheat financial institutions and insurance companies for personal gain. The defendant’s conduct in this case not only caused significant financial loss to victims throughout northeast Louisiana, but also undermined the integrity of our agricultural finance system. This type of behavior will not be tolerated in the Western District of Louisiana.”
Under the terms of the plea agreement, Dickerson must turn over all access to his bank, financial and tax records.
“If the Defendant completely fulfills all obligations and agreements under this plea agreement, the Government agrees it will not prosecute the Defendant for any other offense known to the United States Attorney's Office, based on the investigation which forms the basis of the bill of information,” stated the plea agreement.
The plea agreement pointed out that Dickerson cooperated with federal authorities during their investigation.
The maximum punishment for the two counts is imprisonment of no more than five years or a fine of no more than $10,000.
Sentencing will take place in November before Doughty.
The Franklin Sun and its sister newspaper, The Ouachita Citizen in West Monroe,have reported on the criminal investigation involving Dickerson and several area banks since early 2017 after numerous lawsuits cropped up in state and federal court about the matter.
The allegations in several of the lawsuits centered on Dickerson, whose financial affairs were handled by David Stephens, a tax preparer with Pickett & Co. CPA of Delhi, as well as by Lawrence “Larry” Pickett Jr., owner of Pickett & Co. CPA. The three banks supporting Dickerson's operations by allegedly ignoring or circumventing banking regulations are Commercial Capital Bank of Delhi, Caldwell Bank & Trust Co. of Columbia and Franklin State Bank of Winnsboro. Pickett also is the chairman of Commercial Capital Bank's board of directors.
As part of his scheme to fraudulently obtain loan funds, Dickerson used several farming entities to certify acreage in Catahoula, Tensas, Richland, Madison and Morehouse parishes as well as Ashley, Chicot and Drew counties in Arkansas.
During the 2015 crop year, Dickerson applied for crop production loans and grain storage loans from AG Resource Management; farm operating loans from several banks; credit for crop inputs from seed and chemical dealers like Greenpoint AG LLC and Jimmy Sanders Seed; advances on contracts with Kennedy Rice Dryers; insurance policies and claims from Producers Agriculture Insurance Company and CGB Insurance Company; and several marketing assistant loans through the Farm Service Agency's Commodity Credit Corporation.
“Dickerson made materially false representations and omissions in order to influence the aforementioned, with the purpose of obtaining monies to which he was not otherwise eligible or entitled to receive,” stated the government's documents.
The government said the amount of money fraudulently obtained by Dickerson totaled some $17 million. The losses reported included Farm Service Agency's Commodity Credit Corporation (some $4.7 million), AG Resource Management (some $3.7 million), Franklin State Bank (some $2.7 million), Commercial Capital Bank (some $1.6 million), Greenpoint AG LLC (some $3.7 million), Jimmy Sanders Seed (some $342,000), and Kennedy Rice Dryers (some 173,000).
“The above-described facts do not represent the totality of the evidence obtained in this case,” stated the government's documents.
Later this year, the court is expected to determine whether Caldwell Bank & Trust, Producers Agriculture Insurance Company, and Diversified Crop Insurance Services also are victims in this matter.
For example, Dickerson applied for a crop production loan from Ag Resource Management in Rayville on behalf of his company, Radar Ridge Planting Co. Dickerson's application stated an intent to produce corn and rice on some 5,109 acres, but Dickerson reported to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency that he only planted some 2,737 acres.
“Based on the representations in Dickerson's application, ARM loaned Radar Ridge (some $2.7 million),” stated the government's documents. “Dickerson knowingly overstated Radar Ridge's 2015 spring acreage in order to obtain more loan funds from (Ag Resource Management).”
The government's documents recited several similar instances where Dickerson made false reports concerning the production of commodities, often by overstating acreage in order to obtain more loan funds.
When inspected by federal authorities, some grain bins were completely empty in spite of Dickerson's reports claiming the grain bins were storing his grain.
Though the government indicated Dickerson's fraudulent applications involved other entities beyond the Commodity Credit Corporation, the government only charged Dickerson for those charges involving the government agency. The Commodity Credit Corporation is part of the Farm Service Agency. The Commodity Credit Corporation makes payments to farmers who grow crops including rice, corn, wheat, and others as part of the corporation's efforts to stabilize farm income and prices.
The Commodity Credit Corporation also offers marketing assistance loans to agricultural producers so that producers have interim financing at harvest time to meet cash flow needs without having to sell their commodities when market prices are low at harvest time.
Between April 2015 and February 2016, Dickerson applied for 18 marketing assistance loans. About 13 of Dickerson's applications were successful based on false statements made to the Commodity Credit Corporation. Four more of Dickerson's applications became ineligible when Dickerson converted the property pledged to the Commodity Credit Corporation as collateral for the promissory notes.
Specifically, Dickerson made a false statement to the government on Sept. 29, 2015 so that he could obtain a marketing assistance loan of $343,952.40. Dickerson also made a materially false statement on Jan. 5, 2016 to receive a marketing assistance loan of $654,124.80.
Dickerson's farming entities included B&T Farms LLC (Franklin), Dickerson Ag Inc. (Franklin), Dickerson Ag Inc. (Richland), Dickerson Agricultural Partnership (Catahoula, Franklin, Richland, Tensas), Dickerson Farming Partnership (Franklin), Dickerson Farms Inc. (Richland), Jamie K. Dickerson (Franklin, Richland), Joseph C. Lively (Drew County, Arkansas), Kelley Ag Services Inc. (Catahoula), Radar Ridge Planting Co. Inc. (Catahoula, Franklin, Richland, Morehouse, Tensas), Spillers Ag Inc., (Richland, Catahoula), Thomas A. Dickers (Morehouse, Tensas), Tibb Co. Farms LLC (Ashley County and Chicot Country, Arkansas), and Tough Luck Farms Inc. (Drew County, Arkansas).