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Hunter Hanson (courtesy of McLean County Jail)

Hanson case attracts new Williams Co. criminal charge

WILLISTON, N.D. — Hunter Hanson of Leeds, N.D., faces yet another criminal case over his grain transactions that have cost producers and ag businesses millions of dollars.

On June 5, the Williams County Assistant State's Attorney Nathan K. Madden in Williston filed a Class A felony theft of property criminal charge against Hanson.

Hanson, 22, remains in the McLean County Jail in Washburn, N.D., on separate felony theft charges after his companies, Nodak Grain and Midwest Grain Trading, went insolvent in 2018, leaving claimants with millions of unpaid grain transactions. His arraignment hearing is scheduled for June 19.

In the new Williams County complaint, Madden writes that Hanson "knowingly obtained the property of another by deception" in acquiring more than $50,000 in yellow peas from farmer Paul Weyrauch of Ray, N.D. Hanson operated "under the guise of acting as a grain dealer for Mr. Weyrauch." A more complete affidavit of probable cause was not available as of June 12. The court approved an arrest warrant, although Madden said he wasn't aware Hanson was already jailed. A phone message left for Weyrauch through his family was not immediately returned.

In other developments related to Hanson:

• Grain liquidation: The North Dakota Public Service Commission continues to liquidate grain inventory for Hanson's Nodak Grain warehouses. About 42,000 bushels of yellow peas and 3,500 bushels of durum wheat were sold from the company's Tunbridge, N.D., valued at $185,000.

Funds from grain sales will go into a trust that will become available to verified claim holders. The PSC will have control of the Hanson case even though the Legislature this year moved grain regulation from the PSC to the North Dakota Agriculture Department.

Konrad Crockford, the PSC's director of the compliance division, said courts have now granted the insolvency cases to be consolidated to Pierce County, at Rugby, before Northeast Judicial Judge Michael Hurly.

The PSC also must file a report and make a recommendation about which claims are valid. He expects it might be a month or two before the court would schedule a hearing on the report. Claimants also have the right to appeal how claims are judged by the PSC and the court.

The PSC in the week of June 9 expected to start hauling grain out of NoDak Grain's Rohrville, N.D., elevator facility, northeast of Devils Lake. "The basement, the scale pit and boot pit were all flooded, and froze over the winter and had ice in there," Crockford said.

In May, PSC contractors worked to get the Rohrville equipment thawed out and wiring and motors inspected for operation. The site held about 59,000 bushels of yellow peas, 4,600 bushels of durum, 3,400 bushels of barley and 1,100 hundredweights of canola. "We have purchasers on all of those commodities," Crockford said.

There is no grain inventory facilities associated with the Midwest Grain Trading company that Hanson also ran as a sole proprietor.

• Regulatory shift: Legislators upset with the Hanson's license regulation, moved duties from the Public Service Commission to the North Dakota Department of Agriculture, in a transition that will happen in August.

Doug Goehring, North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner, reports that the agency has hired part-time contractor Sue Richter, who had worked for the PSC as grain compliance director before she was laid off in October 2018 after more than 25 years with the agency.

Goehring said the ag department has laid out organizational charts and responsibilities and will start advertising positions for three inspectors and one in-house worker. He said the department has $857,000 for the biennium to cover operations and salaries.

Goehring said he was pleased Richter will work part-time with the department "to set the program up" and will help explore modifications. He said Richter knows the program inside and out."

"We'll try to fill in some gaps and take from programs that exist across the United States," Goehring said, adding, "We're walking into this with an open mind."

Goehring said he's meeting with the North Dakota Grain Dealers Association board and will be holding some public meetings in coming weeks.

Rep. Dennis Johnson, R-Devils Lake, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said the Legislative Council announced a 17-member interim committee that included some of the legislature's farmers and agribusiness leaders to study the grain marketing regulatory system comprehensively with an eye toward legislation in the 2021 session. Johnson said he is "excited" about the hiring of Richter for the transition, because of her experience with the program.

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