An emerging investigation into whether a central-Missouri grain elevator defrauded hundreds of farmers prompts a leader in the House to propose changes to state law.
Losses to area farmers have been estimated at $15 million, but Rep. Brian Munzlinger (R-Williamstown) says no one can be certain on the total loss, because many farmers operated with the T. J. Gieseker Farms and Trucking on a handshake. Munzlinger says farmers cannot claim grain without a ticket, which many don’t have.
Farmers might eventually receive only pennies on the dollar. The State Agriculture Department has seized Gieseker’s assets, which seems to total only about $100,000 worth of grain and a bit more than half a million dollars in the bank. A routine audit first hinted at trouble with the grain elevator located east of Mexico. It disclosed that the elevator owed more than $1.3 million for grain allegedly stored in its bins.
An informal meeting arranged by the State Agriculture Department was held on Wednesday. About 250 farmers attended. Department officials are trying to assure farmers the grain elevator will be subjected to a thorough investigation.
Munzlinger says the case worries him. He points out the financial crisis this will cause won’t be confined to farmers. Munzlinger says implement dealers have told of contracts for new equipment being cancelled, because farmers had relied on the sale of grain stored in Martinsburg to pay for the tractors, combines and other equipment ordered.
The case discloses weakness in state law, says Munzlinger. He would like to see the bond requirements from grain elevators raised. He adds that Missouri needs to consider creation of an indemnity fund to make farmers whole when grain elevators fold. Munzlinger says such funds have worked in other states.
Both the Audrain County prosecutor and the State Attorney General are considering criminal charges.
Chris Newbrough, KXEO contributed to this report.