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Charges mulled in grain seizure

By Staff | Mar 6, 2009

MARTINSBURG, Mo. – Linus Rothermich took a trucking company owner at her word when she promised to later pay him for nearly $200,000 in grain delivered to feedlots and storage elevators across Missouri.

Now the Auxvasse resident wonders if he and as many as 300 other farmers will ever see a dime. The state agriculture department has seized the assets of T.J. Gieseker Farms and Trucking after a routine audit revealed the company owes more than $1.3 million in unpaid grain royalties.

On Feb. 25, Attorney General Chris Koster announced a criminal investigation into the missing money as hundreds of potential fraud victims packed a Knights of Columbus meeting room in the small town east of Mexico, Mo.

Judging by the comments of Rothermich and others, the actual losses could be far higher than the state’s initial estimate.

”It was all pretty much done over the phone,” Rothermich said of his verbal agreement with Cathy Gieseker, the business owner and sole employee. Gieseker has not returned telephone calls seeking comment.

Other farmers at the meeting told similar stories of handshake deals with Gieseker, though most declined to be publicly identified.

Gieseker may have offered the farmers a rate far higher than what grain buyers wound up paying on the other end, agriculture officials said.

”She promised them the world, and she promised them a price that was not realistic,” said Chris Klenklen, administrator of grain regulatory services for the Missouri Department of Agriculture.

Klenklen said Gieseker served as broker between grain farmers in northeast Missouri and buyers in St. Louis; Louisiana, Mo.; Mexico, Mo.; and Quincy, Ill.

The company still has about $100,000 worth of grain stored in elevators across the state as well as $557,447 in its bank account, according to the state’s court petition seeking appointment as legal trustee and receiver of the business assets. An Audrain County judge granted that request last week.

Farmers owed money have until March 31 to submit any purchase agreements, copies of scale tickets showing weight and other documents to the state. An administrative law judge will help proportionally divvy up the company’s remaining assets in June and July.

Given the number of farmers who attended the meeting, those returns could be just pennies on the dollar, Klenklen said.

”I don’t think we’re going to find this pot of gold,” he said after the meeting.

Missouri Agricultural Director Jon Hagler tried to assure the crowd that state regulators will aggressively investigate the grain dealership. Audrain County Prosecutor Jason Lamb will assist the state Attorney General’s Office.

”Any time you have this level of money changing hands, you have got a roomful of people like this, we always want to take the extra step,” Hagler said. ”There’s a lot of anxiety.”

Several audience members suggested that the inquiry should extend beyond Gieseker to the bigger companies that purchased the farmers’ crops.

Klenklen responded that the state’s investigation will encompass Gieseker customers as well as her clients.

”Everybody is going to get looked at,” she said.

The state’s petition says that Gieseker Farms and Trucking – also known as T.J. Gieseker Trucking Inc. – had a letter of credit for $297,000 on file with the agriculture department.

Such credit guarantees typically represent 10 percent of a company’s annual sales, Klenklen said, meaning the company potentially bought and sold an estimated $30 million of grain each year.

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