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News Detail

Stamps Face More Charges

12/10/2018 2:33:00 PM
By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor

OMAHA (DTN) -- The former owners of a large Michigan farming operation are facing more federal criminal charges for their farm that quickly gained acreage and large lines of credit before collapsing in 2012.

Michael and Melissa Stamp operated Stamp Farms LLC and Northstar Grain LLC and quickly accumulated large land leases in southwest Michigan by agreeing to pay landowners above-market rental rates. The couple also ran their operation with a large number of bank loans and lines of credit, according to a federal indictment filed last month.

According to the latest superseding indictment filed in the U.S. District Court for Western Michigan, Michael Stamp fraudulently got a $68 million loan in late 2011 from Wells Fargo Bank for the Stamp Farms and Northstar Grains by misrepresenting the amount of acreage he farmed and the profitability of the operation, as well as the collateral for the loan.

After securing the loan, the federal charges allege, Michael and Melissa Stamp then sold collateral pledged to the bank for their personal gain. Along with that, Michael Stamp also provided false information to the bank about the farm and grain elevator operations to induce Wells Fargo to extend the line of credit.

In 2011 and 2012 and earlier, the indictment alleges, Michael Stamp also submitted false claims to the Federal Crop Insurance Corp. and reinsurers to collect crop-insurance indemnity payments to help cash flow some of his farm operation and make lease payments.

In late 2012, Wells Fargo became aware of problems with the farm and the line of credit, causing Michael Stamp to file for personal bankruptcy, as well as on Stamp Farms LLC and other related businesses. Michael Stamp, though, also was alleged to have committed bankruptcy fraud by lying about assets and concealing others from the bankruptcy court and creditors, including Wells Fargo Bank.

A grand jury last month handed down indictments alleging one count against Michael and Melissa Stamp for bank fraud against Wells Fargo by misrepresenting the farm and grain-elevator operations and hiding assets from the bank as well as selling collateral. Michael Stamp was also indicted for a second count of related bank fraud.

Melissa Stamp originally appeared in court on Monday without counsel and asked for a public defender. She was released on bond, and in a motion filed on Tuesday, her attorney requested a jury trial. Melissa Stamp is scheduled for an arraignment and initial pre-trial conference on Monday, Dec. 10, in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

A third count also was filed against Michael Stamp for filing false insurance claims to the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation and multiple insurers selling insurance to the Stamps. An employee of the Stamp farm, James Becraft, had pleaded guilty to conspiracy for making false statements for crop insurance fraud and was initially scheduled for sentencing on Dec. 17. However, he received a continuance of the hearing until Feb. 11. Becraft pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors.

Douglas Diekman, a landowner who leased acreage to the Stamps, also pleaded guilty to charges of fraudulently making statements to the FCIC to collect crop-insurance indemnity payments and turning the money over to Stamp. A pre-sentencing report was filed earlier this week on Diekman's case, but that document is sealed.

Michael Stamp was also indicted on a fourth county of bankruptcy fraud for concealing assets over an 18-month period while his farm and business was under bankruptcy proceedings, which was aided and abetted by Melissa Stamp who earlier had served a 20-month prison sentence for bankruptcy fraud.

Michael Stamp also faces a fifth indicted charge of bankruptcy fraud for making false statements under oath. Michael Stamp filed a waiver of his arraignment and entered a plea of not guilty last month.

The Stamps also are required to forfeit a sum of at least $25 million related to the charges in the first count of bank fraud against Wells Fargo. Michael Stamp faces similar forfeiture obligations under the related charges.

Michigan Farm News first reported details of this case, which were confirmed through a federal court search.

DTN reached out to separate attorneys for Michael and Melissa Stamp seeking comment but did not receive responses.

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

(AG)