Federal Court of Appeals Affirms Conviction and Sentence of Aaron Johnson in Federal Farm Fraud Case
Fargo – U.S. Attorney Christopher C. Myers announced that on May 4, 2015, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has affirmed the conviction and sentence of Aaron A. Johnson.
Aaron A. Johnson, along with his brother Derek M. Johnson, farmed potatoes in eastern North Dakota for many years. A federal grand jury indicted the two brothers for fraudulently damaging their own potato crops to obtain crop insurance and disaster payments and then lying to cover up their fraud from at least as early as 2002 until approximately January 20, 2010. In particular, the grand jury alleged that the brothers intentionally damaged their potato seeds and harvested crops through various means, including: (1) adding chemicals such as septic system products Rid-X and Flush to their potato seeds and harvested crops; (2) piling frozen potatoes onto their stored potatoes; and (3) adding extreme heat to their stored potatoes. At the conclusion of a two-week trial, on December 11, 2014, the jury returned verdicts convicting both brothers on all counts.
On March 9, 2015, U.S. District Judge Ralph R. Erickson sentenced Aaron Johnson to four years’ imprisonment, followed by five years of supervised release. Judge Erickson sentenced Derek Johnson to eighteen months’ imprisonment, followed by five years of supervised release. Judge Erickson also ordered forfeiture and restitution as joint obligations in the amount of $932,000. Derek Johnson did not appeal his conviction or sentence.
The United States Secretary of Agriculture (USDA) acknowledged the national significance of this case to the federal farm programs when the Secretary of Agriculture recognized the case with the USDA’s 2015 “Award for Excellence” recognition.
United States Attorney Christopher C. Myers also emphasized the importance of this prosecution on the federal farm programs: “Federal programs like the federal farm programs are based on an honor system. Unfortunately, there are a few who take advantage of this system and some, like Aaron Johnson, who brag about defrauding the system. Today’s affirmance of his conviction and sentence sends a clear message to all those honest farmers who follow the rules and hate seeing some people take advantage of the system.”
The case was investigated by the United States Department of Agriculture and the Risk Management Agency.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Clare Hochhalter and Nick Chase prosecuted the case.