KALAMAZOO – James Becraft Jr., the second co-defendant and a former employee involved with the now bankrupt Decatur-based Stamp Farms LLC, was sentenced on Monday in a U.S. District courtroom in Kalamazoo.
He will serve a 12-month and 1-day prison term for conspiracy of making a false statement on crop insurance. Additionally, Becraft is sentenced to two years of supervised release, a fine of $648,188 in restitution, which must be paid to the Risk Management Agency, and $100 in special assessments.
The sentencing comes after a July 12, 2018 plea agreement, when Becraft – originally named in three counts of a 14-count federal indictment in 2017 alongside Douglas Diekman and Michael Stamp – agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy for making false statements to the Federal Crop Insurance Corp. (FCIC).
In exchange, two additional counts of making false statements related to crop insurance claims, which carried a maximum sentence of 30 years and/or a $1 million fine, were dropped.
Becraft will not begin serving his prison sentence until July 1, 2019, according to court filings.
The federal charge could have carried a maximum sentence of five years, a three-year period of supervised release, a $250,000 fine, and an estimated $2,659,810 in mandatory restitution, according to court documents.
However, Becraft’s attorney, Gary Springstead, said the court “sustained our objection to the loss amount and restitution, reducing the loss amount” by roughly $2 million and the sentencing guidelines to 24 to 30 months.
“The Court then granted our request for (a) downward variance from the sentencing guidelines, sentencing Mr. Becraft to 12 months and one day,” wrote Springstead, a partner at the Fremont, Mich.-based law firm Springstead Bartish Borgula & Lynch pllc, in an email to Michigan Farm News. “He still, however, has an opportunity to further reduce his sentence by testifying truthfully at trial.”
Springstead is referring to the pending trial of Michael Stamp, which is currently scheduled for early-May.
“Because we believe the Court fully and fairly addressed our concerns about the sentencing guidelines at Mr. Becraft’s sentencing and Mr. Becraft still has a chance to avoid incarceration altogether, we do not anticipate appealing his sentence,” he said.
According to court documents, Becraft, Douglas Diekman and Stamp worked together to “obtain money, funds, credits, assets, securities and other property owned by… Federal Crop Insurance Corporation… by means of false and fraudulent pretenses and representations about crop yields.”
From 2009 to 2013, Becraft “conspired with Mike Stamp to submit a false statement for the purposes of obtaining crop insurance and DCP payment,” according to the sentencing memo.
In addition, Becraft, the former farmland manager for Stamp Farms, is responsible for managing Stamp Farms’ farm leases and serving as a “point of contact with all landowners.”
“This is significant because Becraft knew that all the leased land was farmed by Stamp Farms and (the) rent was paid by Stamp Farms,” according to the memo. “… As Becraft well knew from his role as Stamp Farms’ farmland manager, these farming entities (Royal Star Farms, South Star Farms, Diekman, and Trowbridge) were not independent farming operations. In reality, all the land was farmed by Mike Stamp and Stamp Farms. All the inputs (seed, fertilizer, and labor) were provided by Stamp Farms, and all the grain sold belonged to Mike Stamp and was sold under Mike Stamp’s name (d/b/a Stamp Farms).
“Therefore, Royal Star Farms, South Star Farms, Diekman and Trowbridge were not actively engaged in farming and did not share in the risk of producing crops -- which is a requirement for DCP payments from the FSA.”
Prior to Becraft, co-defendant Diekman was sentenced in December 2018 to serve a 13-month prison term, two years of supervised release, and to pay $488,432.86 in restitution, as Michigan Farm News reported at the time.
Under terms of the Aug. 1, 2018 plea deal, Diekman pled guilty to one count of conspiracy for making false statements to the FCIC. Even though Diekman filed an appeal challenging the restitution calculation and a related request to delay the start of his sentence, a late-January court order required Diekman to begin serving his prison term on Jan. 31.
“As the Court indicated at sentencing, the sentence imposed ‘would be the same even’ if it had sustained the objections of Defendant concerning the loss calculations, because it intended ‘to give Mr. Diekman a sentence that would have been within the resulting range if the range had been reduced by two levels,’” U.S. District Judge Paul L. Maloney wrote in the order.
“Accordingly, while Diekman’s appeal may raise novel issues about the methods for calculating total loss, it is extremely unlikely that resolution of the issue will alter his sentence.”
Meanwhile, Michael Stamp, a resident of West Michigan who owned and leased farmland from others, and his wife, Melissa, still await trial.
Both are named as co-defendants in a five-count “Superseding Indictment” on federal charges filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan’s Southern Division on Nov. 14, 2018.
The federal charges allege a conspiracy to commit bank fraud, bank fraud in regards to Wells Fargo Bank, conspiracy to make false statements to the Federal Crop Insurance Corp., bankruptcy fraud and concealing assets, and bankruptcy fraud.
*Editor’s Note: This story’s been corrected from its original version to correct James Becraft Jr.’s attorney’s name. It’s Gary Springstead, not Gary Springsteen.