State

Kentucky farmers charged with cheating on crop insurance. Sentences could be up to 30 years

A tobacco field in Central Kentucky.
A tobacco field in Central Kentucky. cbertram@herald-leader.com

Four Central Kentucky farmers have been charged with taking part in defrauding the federal crop-insurance program of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Bradley Price, 34; his brother Brandon Price, 27; their father Jimmy Price, 57; and 58-year-old Lonnie Brierly, who farmed with the Prices, were charged in a 20-charge indictment unsealed Friday in U.S. District Court in Lexington.

All four are charged with making false statements to the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation, which carries a maximum 30-year sentence for a conviction.

They also are charged with conspiring to make false statements and with conspiring to conduct financial transactions aimed at hiding illegal activity.

The indictment said that between 2010 and 2015, Bradley and Jimmy Price and Brierly raised tobacco in Bourbon and Nicholas counties, while Brandon Price raised tobacco in Nicholas County.

The four allegedly gave insurance companies false information, saying they grew less tobacco than they actually had, in order to claim damage to their crops and get insurance payments, according to a news release from U.S. Attorney Robert M. Duncan Jr.

They also allegedly sold the extra tobacco and then tried to hide that production by making it appear they’d bought burley from Clay’s Tobacco Warehouse, the release said.

The four are also charged with conspiring with each other, and others not named in the indictment, to launder money from the sale of hidden tobacco by passing it through an agricultural lender called Farm Credit Mid-America.

In addition to seeking criminal convictions, the government wants to seize land from Bradley and Jimmy Price — and the contents of bank accounts from all four — if they are convicted.

The indictment also includes a request for financial judgments against the four: $264,352 from Bradley Price; $110,257 from Brandon Price; $110,526 from Jimmy Price; and $52,857 from Brierly.

Those are the approximate amounts the government alleges the men got from “crop insurance fraud and property involved in or traceable to money laundering.”

The case comes on the heels of other recent indictments alleging fraud in connection with federal crop insurance.

In March, Paris farmer Ronnie Jolly was charged in an indictment that alleged he grossed $2.6 million through fraudulent crop-insurance claims and other illegal acts.

Jolly, who owned or rented farm land in Bourbon, Scott, Bath, Fleming and Montgomery counties, has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.

And in April, Debra Muse, a Fleming County woman who had worked as a crop-insurance agent, pleaded guilty to helping burley tobacco growers steal money through the federally-backed program.

Muse has not been sentenced.

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