Defrauded co-op goes after six big-game hunting firms
ELBOW LAKE, Minn. -- The defunct Ashby (Minn.) Farmers Cooperative Elevator Co. is going after $831,500 from six guiding services who had received checks direct from the co-op to pay for "exotic and expensive" hunts by former general manager Jerr...
ELBOW LAKE, Minn. - The defunct Ashby (Minn.) Farmers Cooperative Elevator Co. is going after $831,500 from six guiding services who had received checks direct from the co-op to pay for "exotic and expensive" hunts by former general manager Jerry Hennessey.
Hennessey on Feb. 14 pleaded guilty to federal criminal fraud charges related to embezzling more than $5 million and is scheduled to be sentenced June 12. Penalties could range from 6.5 to 8 years in prison and $6.5 million in restitution.
Because of the losses, the co-op closed its doors Sept. 14 , 2018, and leased out its facilities.
Lawyer Erik Ahlgren of Fergus Falls, Minn., is working to retrieve $559,965 from checks written directly from the co-op to hunting and guiding companies. He says other checks to the companies may have come from Hennessey or other sources.
The civil suits were filed in Grant County District Court at Elbow Lake. The co-op served all of the guides on Jan. 8 at a Safari Club International event in Reno, Nev.
Here are the suits, in order of size:
• $312,150 - Jay Link, sole owner of Link's Wild Safaris of Superior, Wis. Link's attorneys asked to dismiss the claims, on grounds Link isn't a Minnesotan and doesn't have a business there.
Ahlgren said Link had received checks "clearly identified" as coming form the co-op. Elevator records indicated Hennessey internally had labeled the payments "soybeans, wheat, corn feed."
Link established Link's Wild Safaris in about 2014. Link used the same Burnsville, Minn., taxidermist that Hennessey used. Link had met with Hennessey at Safari Club International meetings in Nevada.
Co-op checks ranging from $5,500 to $73,750 were written to Link from Oct. 30, 2015, to Feb. 18, 2018. Based on the name of the co-op checks, Link "knew or should have known they were taking checks from an agricultural cooperative for expenses unrelated to the business," Ahlgren argues, noting the co-op elevator did not owe any money.
The 2015 transactions involved a trip to Uganda. The 2016 and 2017 transactions involved two hunts to Cameroon. The 2018 transactions involved a hunt to Nepal.
Ahlgren said Link had strong ties to Minnesota, in that prior to 2009, he was president and chief executive officer for Jack Link's Beef Jerky, with manufacturing facilities in Mankato, Minn. In an online description, Link described it as "the largest meat snack business in the world."
• $245,000 - Diekie Muller Hunting Safaris of San Juan Capistrano, Calif., and owner Diecke Muller, for three checks from 2013 to 2015, including two that were $100,000 each.
• $152,500 - Track & Trail Safaris, at Geraldine, South Island, New Zealand, and owners Chris and Peg Bilkey. The first checks were written in 2014 and $63,000 in checks were written in 2018.
On Feb. 8, those three defendants exercised their right to be "removed" to federal court, based in part on the size of the claims. All three are represented by Briggs and Morgan, P.A., a St. Paul, Minn., law firm.
These cases are still in Grant County:
• $46,330 - Stone Mountain Safaris of St. Helen's, Ore., with owners Leif, Kellie, Larry and Betty Olson, with offices in Toad River, British Columbia, Canada.
• $41,995 - Fejes Guide Services Ltd., Anchorage, Alaska, and owner Samual Fejes, for checks from 2011 to 2014.
• $33,500 - Mabula Pro Safaris of Limpopo, South Africa, and Christos and Stella Gomes. Trip payments started in 2013.