A criminal investigation of alleged racketeering and breached crop loan agreements supposedly involving three area banks and Delhi farmer Thomas “Tommy” Dickerson is “ongoing.”

That's what Dickerson's attorney, Justin Wooley, indicated in a recent deposition of his client. Wooley is an attorney with the Monroe law firm Davenport, Files & Kelly.

Wooley stated the criminal investigation involved his client as well as the allegations at the center of a 2014 lawsuit in Winnsboro: KT Farms and others v. Citizens Progressive Bank and others.

The KT Farms lawsuit alleges that Citizens Progressive Bank, Commercial Capital Bank and Caldwell Bank & Trust intentionally breached a crop loan agreement with a group of farmers in 2013, with some $5 million at stake.

The matter surfaced during a deposition of Dickerson on Jan. 25 as part of the KT Farms lawsuit. Monroe attorney Sedric Banks, who represents the plaintiffs in the KT Farms lawsuit, deposed Dickerson, though Wooley and attorneys for the bank defendants also were present.

The Franklin Sun and its sister newspaper, The Ouachita Citizen, obtained a copy of the 37-page deposition transcript, which detailed exchanges between Banks and Dickerson as well as between Banks and other attorneys.

Dickerson “pleaded the Fifth” at least 50 times in response to questions during the deposition. “Pleading the Fifth” refers to the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. By “pleading the Fifth,” witnesses are invoking their right not to provide testimony which might incriminate them in a criminal matter.

“Yeah, I think he'd like to put on the record that he's pleading the Fifth due to the ongoing criminal investigation that is related to the similar and same issues as this lawsuit that's filed,” Wooley said.

It is unknown what agency is conducting the criminal investigation, though allegations in lawsuits related to Dickerson involve loans from local banks as well as federal financing through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

At the peak of his farming operation, Dickerson said he farmed some 12,000 to 15,000 acres. When asked, he declined to say how the farming of the acreage was financed because of the criminal investigation.

The KT Farms lawsuit is not the first lawsuit in the Fifth Judicial District to levy similar accusations against Dickerson and the banks. The allegations in the KT Farms lawsuit as well as others in the Fifth Judicial District have 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. Pickett also is the chairman of Commercial Capital Bank's board of directors.

The three banks supposedly ignored or circumvented banking regulations to support Dickerson's operations, according to various lawsuits.

FSB withdraws

motion for sanctions

In a related lawsuit, Franklin State Bank & Trust Company v. Joseph Blake Lively, Banks elaborated on some of the allegations pertaining to Dickerson and the three banks through an objection filed Feb. 15.

Banks is no longer representing any party in FSB v. Lively, but Banks and Blake Lively, a former client of Stephens and worker for Dickerson, faced court sanctions until earlier this month. On Feb. 8, Monroe attorney Brian Crawford withdrew Franklin State Bank's motion for sanctions against Banks and Lively.

In a Feb. 14 supplemental motion, Crawford argued Franklin State Bank's motion to withdraw sanctions had not drawn any timely opposition, from either Banks or Lively. A hearing was set on Franklin State Bank's sanctions motion earlier this week, but that hearing and any testimony from witnesses subpoenaed by Banks was unnecessary, because Franklin State Bank was dropping its motion for sanctions, according to Crawford's supplemental motion.

“As Mr. Banks was discharged as counsel for Mr. Lively many months ago, and as Mr. Lively has filed no opposition to the Motion to Dismiss the sanctions requests, there is no opposition pending,” stated Crawford's supplemental motion.

In response to the bank's withdrawal of sanctions, Banks objected to the cost incurred by Franklin State Bank's sanctions motion and filed his own motion for sanctions against Franklin State Bank. Franklin State Bank's July 27, 2017 motion for sanctions against Banks and Lively stemmed from Franklin State Bank's claim that Banks filed a deficient pleading, Banks argued.

“In reality, FSB complained the pleading exposed the (Ponzi) scheme, masquerading as a farming operation directed by Thomas A. 'Tommy' Dickerson and tax preparer, David Stephens,” Banks' Feb. 15 motion for sanctions continued. “The corrupt farming enterprise was financed by local banks, including Franklin State Bank, Commercial Capital Bank (CCB) and Caldwell Bank and Trust (CBT). In short, crop loans and government farm payments totaling tens of millions of dollars were obtained via forgery and fraud and used to (produce) federally insured crops which were stolen and sold, sometimes multiple times, and crop revenues were laundered.

“While FSB's participation in Dickerson's racketeering is particularly set out in the pleading complained of by FSB, corruption was widespread and the other banks were deeply involved. For example, CCB chairman, Larry Pickett CPA notarized forged documents, while his 'partner,' David Stephens, witnesses same. Pickett is, also, chairman of CCB which over-drafted Dickerson's farm account over ($1 million) for check kiting to aid the (Ponzi) scheme, while CBT laundered more than ($1 million) through the account of Joseph Blake Lively, including more than $800,000 received by High Flyers Inc., an entity which well-connected 'tax preparer,' David Stephens, stole from Pickett & Co. client, William 'Jake' Cassiday. At no time did either Lively or Casiday have any involvement, whatsoever, in any wrongdoing.”

Banks claimed Crawford and Franklin State Bank's motion for sanctions was “motivated by cover-up” to harass and increase the cost of litigation.

“Likewise, FSB knew, or should have known, it need look no further than its own bank records to find prima facie evidence of bank fraud, forgery and racketeering...” stated Banks' Feb. 15 motion for sanctions. “At all times pertinent, FSB and its counsel knew there was not a scintilla of evidence supporting allegations in FSB's motion to sanction mover for filing false pleadings in this court.”

Dickerson declines

to answer questions

When he began farming, Dickerson said he financed the operation through a direct loan provided by the Farm Service Agency, which is an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. When asked about when he decided to finance his farm through bank loans instead of a direct loan, Dickerson said he would plead the Fifth.

Banks asked Dickerson whether he knew Brian Wilson, who is a loan officer at Caldwell Bank & Trust, but James Carroll, an attorney for Citizens Progressive Bank, objected to the question, arguing that ad hoc judge Anne Simon had forbidden Banks from levying any allegations concerning Wilson. Such allegations were irrelevant and inappropriate in the KT Farms lawsuit, said Carroll, paraphrasing Simon's protective order which struck such allegations from the KT Farms lawsuit. Simon, a retired judge from New Iberia, was appointed by the state Supreme Court to preside over the KT Farms lawsuit late last year.

Once more, Banks asked Dickerson whether he knew Wilson, but Dickerson pleaded the Fifth.  When asked whether he knew Jake Casiday, Blake Lively, or High Flyers Inc., Dickerson pleaded the Fifth to each question. High Flyers Inc. was a dormant farm entity in Casiday's name, but was reactivated by Dickerson, Stephens and Pickett to use its tax identification number as part of a scheme to defraud creditors and launder money, according to the Richland Parish lawsuit Agrifund LLC v. Radar Ridge Planting Co. Inc., Thomas A. Dickerson and others.

“Do you know whether Mr. Lively was given over a million dollars by you and requested to take it to Caldwell Bank and Trust and deposit that money into his checking account?” Banks said.

“I'm going to plead the Fifth on that, too,” Dickerson said.

Carroll, who works with the Columbia law firm Mixon, Carroll & Frazier, revived his objection to Banks' line of questioning.

“Judge Simon also ruled that your Third Amended and Supplemental Petition (in the KT Farms lawsuit) which raises allegations involving Tommy Dickerson, (Brian) Wilson, (Jake Casiday), High Flyers, Joseph Blake Lively and all the other individuals of which are involved in any of the Tommy Dickerson litigation...was struck and found by the court to not be appropriate and not part of this litigation...” said Carroll, who pledged to seek sanctions against Banks for conducting a deposition of Dickerson.

When asked whether he knew Stephens or Pickett, Dickerson pleaded the Fifth.

Carroll told Banks that any questions about Stephens and Pickett also could not be asked, under Simon's recent ruling.

Banks proceeded to ask Dickerson several questions about whether Stephens or Pickett were involved in preparing certain documents.

“Did you ever allow David (Stephens) to sign any documents for you?” Banks said.

“I'm going to plead the Fifth on that,” Dickerson said.

“In saying 'allow,' let me clean that up a little bit. Did you ever specifically authorize David (Stephens) to execute your signature on any document that you can recall?”

“I'm going to plead the Fifth on that,” Dickerson said.

And later, while showing Dickerson a document supposedly notarized by Pickett, Banks said, “Do you see that that document is notarized by Larry Pickett?”

“I plead the Fifth on that, also,” Dickerson said.

“Did you ever have Mr. Pickett notarize documents that weren't witnessed by Mr. (Pickett)?” Banks said.

“I'm going to plead the Fifth on that,” Dickerson said.

“This signature that appears on this document as a witness, up here on this top line, do you know whose signature that is, right here as a witness?” Banks said.

“I—I'm going to plead the Fifth on that,” Dickerson said.

“If I represented-- Well, if I ask you, is that David (Stephens') signature, in particular, as on the witness of Exhibit 'Dickerson Number 8,' would you agree”’

“I'm going to plead the Fifth on that,” Dickerson said.

Dickerson pleaded the Fifth in the face of numerous questions, including questions about whether Commercial Capital Bank President Shannon Lockard overdrafted Dickerson's checking account; whether Commercial Capital Bank overdrafted Dickerson's checking account by more than $1 million in 2015; to whom Dickerson sold $180,000 in Caldwell Holding Company stock; why he received a check for $62,856.20 from Citizens Progressive Bank; whether Dickerson paid Sonny Vidrine “any monies that would be over and above” payments for equipment purchases through the years; whether any entity involving Dickerson paid money or gave anything of value to Citizens Progressive Bank, Commercial Capital Bank or Caldwell Bank & Trust in 2012 and 2013; and what was the meaning of a telephone transfer of $14,500 from the High Flyers Inc. bank account, with the name “Brian Wilson” written beside the transfer.

Banks asked many of these questions after an exchange with Dickerson about some $300,000 that was supposedly missing.

“Do you know Mr. (Gary) Sanford (with Citizens Progressive Bank)?” Banks said.

“Personally, no,” Dickerson said.

“Okay. How do you know him if at all?” Banks said.

“I don't,” Dickerson said.

“Okay,” Banks said.

“I plead the Fifth on that,” Dickerson said.

“You're not in this particular issue or search, but we're looking for three hundred thousand dollars ($300,000) that Mr. Sanford, last night (during a deposition), told us he didn't know where it was, over three hundred thousand dollars,” Banks said.

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