By Nancy Allen
James Fennig, 1456 St. Anthony Road, Coldwater, and Mark A. Homan, 1754 St. Johns Road, Coldwater, pleaded guilty to one federal count each of conspiracy to commit crop insurance fraud.
The men appeared Monday in U.S. District Court in Toledo, where they entered plea agreements before a magistrate judge, who recommended the pleas be accepted. The plea agreements were not available to the newspaper this morning.
A court official said presiding Judge James Carr must rule on the magistrate judge's recommendation. After that, a sentencing date will be set. The court official indicated it would be "awhile" before the pair is sentenced.
According to U.S. Assistant Attorney Thomas Karol, the pair could face a minimum of probation to a maximum of five years in a federal prison, adding that their sentences will be based on factors that the judge will consider.
Both were insurance agents with the Fennig Insurance Agency in Mercer County, court documents indicate. Fennig, 61, and Homan, 48, were charged last month.
"We don't know where it's at right now, thank you," Fennig cordially replied this morning when reached at his home for comment on the case.
The Daily Standard first learned the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) was investigating the pair in September, after federal agents carried out search warrants at several farms and insurance offices in Ohio and Indiana, including six farm operations in Mercer County and two in Auglaize County.
For a September 2000 story in The Daily Standard, a few anonymous Mercer County farmers said the investigation concerned discrepancies in the yield amounts farmers reported on federally insured crops.
Documents filed at U.S. District Court in Toledo state that on or about March 2003, Homan and Fennig knowingly and willfully conspired and agreed to commit certain offenses against the United States by making false statements and reports on applications for crop insurance for the purpose of influencing the action of the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation and companies the corporation reinsures.
When asked why the charges against the men are for incidents that occurred in 2003 when the initial investigation occurred in 2000, Karol would not comment.
According to court documents, part of the conspiracy was that Homan and Fennig would backdate crop insurance applications, have applicants sign blank or incomplete documents pertaining to crop insurance and create or have created false actual production histories, court documents state.
The Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC) is a federally-subsidized program administered and delivered through FCIC and private insurance companies. FCIC contacts with private insurance companies to sell, service and settle claims against Multi-Peril Crop Insurance policies.
To get insurance coverage, farmers complete an application through a licensed insurance agent.
A policyholder's insurance protection is determined by the covered level and price election for the insured crop, the policyholder's history of producing the insurance crop, his share of the crop and the acres planted of the insured crop. These elements determine the policyholder's insurance protection for the year in which the application for crop insurance was made.
The policyholder is eligible for a crop insurance indemnity payment if he sustains production losses at any time during the insured crop year.
The signup period to apply for crop insurance for calendar year 2003 ended March 17, 2003, after which no applications for 2003 crop insurance would be accepted. Court documents say Fennig and Homan had an individual sign a crop insurance form after that deadline and then back-dated the form to March 17.