Advertise in Print | Subscriptions
Published October 20, 2009, 12:00 AM

Long Prairie farmer accused of filing false crop insurance statements

A federal grand jury has returned an indictment against a 67-year-old Long Prairie farmer for allegedly making false statements in order to obtain federally subsidized crop insurance.

A federal grand jury has returned an indictment against a 67-year-old Long Prairie farmer for allegedly making false statements in order to obtain federally subsidized crop insurance.

In the indictment, which was filed October 14, Harlan Dale Berndt was charged with four counts of making false statements in connection with the multi-peril crop insurance (MPCI) program .

An indictment is a determination by a grand jury that there is probable cause to believe that offenses have been committed by a defendant. A defendant is presumed innocent until he or she pleads guilty or is proven guilty at trial.

The indictment alleges Berndt knowingly filed such statements on March 14, 2005, September 22, 2005, and March 15, 2006.

The MPCI program is a federally funded program that provides farmers with insurance coverage through private insurance companies to protect against natural crop loss.

The program, administered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), subsidizes premiums and reimburses the insurance companies for claims paid to insured farmers.

The indictment does not disclose how much insurance Berndt allegedly received.

To be eligible for MPCI coverage, a farmer must have a share in the insured crop as a landlord, owner-operator, or tenant. To obtain coverage, a farmer must truthfully complete an application for insurance.

Then, if a crop is damaged, the insured farmer must report that damage to the insurance company and request a payment for the loss.

The program keeps track of farmers who fail to pay their premiums and maintains an tracking list of ineligible delinquent farmers by name and Social Security number.

The indictment alleges Berndt has participated in the MPCI program since at least 1997, and since early 1998, he has received multiple warnings and termination letters from MPCI crop insurance companies and the Federal Crop Insurance Corp.

Those warnings and letters highlighted his failure to pay his insurance premiums. In May 2003, Berndt’s true Social Security number was placed on the ineligible tracking list, where it has remained ever since.

Berndt made the alleged false statements after this time, using other people’s Social Security numbers instead of his own.

If convicted, Berndt faces a potential maximum penalty of 30 years in prison for each count.

A federal district court judge determines all sentences. This case is the result of an investigation by the USDA-Office of Inspector General.

Tags: