BISMARCK, N.D. — A Washburn, North Dakota, farmer must repay $379,317 to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management agency after he pleaded guilty to a
Kent Pfaff, 59, pleaded guilty on Dec. 20 to crop insurance fraud. A sentencing hearing in the case has been scheduled for March 26. The maximum penalty for the charge is 30 years in prison, $1 million in fines, five years probation and a $100 special assessment. However, a plea agreement in the case signed in November indicates prosecutors will ask for a sentence of zero to six months, based on federal sentencing guidelines, along with three years of probation.
Prosecutors also will not request Pfaff be made to pay a fine since he already has agreed to pay restitution to RMA for the amount he was overpaid for crop insurance. The plea agreement is not binding, and sentencing guidelines determined by a presentence report could exceed that in the plea agreement.
According to the plea agreement, Pfaff has admitted he underreported yields of soybeans for crop insurance purposes, including reporting that a 138.35 acre soybean field ran 3.82 bushels per acre, while elsewhere reporting a yield of 23.8 bushels per acre for the same field; reporting that a 408.2 acre soybean field ran 4.98 bushel per acre to crop insurance while elsewhere reporting a 21.2 bushel yield; and reporting a 297.63 acre soybean field ran 3.98 bushels per acre to crop insurance while elsewhere reporting a yield of 21.6 bushels per acre.
The plea agreement explains that Pfaff was paid $223,227 for crop insurance in the 2019 crop year for the false claims. Pfaff’s son, Steven Pfaff, was paid $145,035, “and his farmhand, Christopher Stork, … over whom he had power of attorney” was paid $11,055. The agreement explains that Kent Pfaff, rather than the other two, was responsibly for falsely certifying the production summary worksheet on which the false claims were made.
Pfaff agreed in the plea agreement to “grant the United States a wage assignment, liquidate assets, or complete any other tasks the Court finds reasonable and appropriate for the prompt payment of any restitution or fine ordered by the Court.”
Under the plea agreement, Pfaff also will not be eligible for USDA programs for at least five years. The court document also indicates USDA could initiate proceedings to bar his participation in programs for longer than five years.
Jenny Schlecht is the director of ag content for Agweek and serves as editor of Agweek, Sugarbeet Grower and BeanGrower. She lives on a farm and ranch near Medina, North Dakota, with her husband and two daughters. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 701-595-0425.
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