Little to smile about in case of con artist Hunter Hanson
BISMARCK, N.D. -- It's been nearly a year since the North Dakota Public Service Commission shut down Hunter Hanson, 22, a now infamous Ponzi-scheming grain trader who operated out of northeast North Dakota. Hanson is now headed to an eight-year p...
BISMARCK, N.D. - It's been nearly a year since the North Dakota Public Service Commission shut down Hunter Hanson, 22, a now infamous Ponzi-scheming grain trader who operated out of northeast North Dakota.
Hanson is now headed to an eight-year prison sentence in a federal prison.
There is no parole, or early release in the federal system, based on good behavior. He'll be on probation for three years after that, until he's 31 or so. He's supposed to pay off $11.1 million in restitution.
After 40 years of covering agriculture, this is one of the most astonishing subjects I've seen.
If I'd seen this plot a movie, I would have laughed in disbelief.
'Drove a truck ..."
Think about it: With minimal exposure to grain trading and no financial backing, this young man "drove a truck through the grain regulation system," as one grain industry veteran described it.
In 2017, Hanson somehow acquired a few bushels of grain to sell. (We don't know how.) He started dealing when he was still a laborer at an elevator. He got fired for using the company's testing equipment for his side business, in competition to his employer.
The North Dakota Public Service Commission dinged him for dealing without a license. Somehow he got a license and a bond. (We don't know how.) After he was fired for running a side business out of one elevator, he somehow (We don't know how.) hooked up with a long-time "introducing broker," Dan Stommes of East Central Grain Marketing of Sioux Falls and/or Wayzata, Minn., and Minnetonka, Minn.
Stommes and company lined Hanson up with dozens of farmers and elevators to sell grain to.
Last Thanksgiving time, Hanson told Agweek he'd sold some $23 million in grain over an 18-month period. Claimants filed for $8 million for grain he picked up and didn't pay for, and another $3 million in losses from broken contracts.
He has declined to speak with Agweek, so we can only imagine how sorry Stommes might be for all of this wreckage. In business for 20 years, Stommes reportedly voluntarily returned some brokerage fees to at least farmers. But then he turned around and filed a claim against Hanson's grain trust for lost brokerage fees. In his letter to the PSC, Stommes remarkably offered to be paid last - after the farmers.
The PSC denied his claim altogether, as they always do with brokerage fees..
There are some bright spots in this dark comedy that seems ripped from the screenplay of the movie "Fargo."
I've seen exemplary efforts from the PSC and from state's attorneys in Mountrail, McLean and Sheridan counties as well as the U.S. attorney, the FBI, the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigations, the North Dakota State and Local Intelligence Center.
I have received numerous comments and suggestions from readers and viewers. Some will smile and nudge that Hunter Hanson is a "bonanza" for selling news - "gift that keeps on giving" for a reporter. I acknowledge that's true: I have nothing against selling magazines.
But I remind them I can't forget the faces of the victims I've met who have been harmed for generations. The truth is I'd happily throw away every byline if it could make even one victim whole again.