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Farmer Makes Plea Deal over Fake Organic Crop

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A Camp Creek farmer has agreed to pay more than $450,000 in restitution as part of a plea deal resolving a federal investigation into his alleged sale of more than 4.2 million pounds of conventional corn falsely labeled as organic.

Harold Allen Chase, 54, also pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in connection with the probe, which apparently began when commodities broker Grain Millers discovered "inconsistencies" while auditing the transaction to ensure the corn complied with federal organic program rules.

In a hearing Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Cardani to confirm that Chase's guilty plea was based in part on the government agreeing not to charge Chase for other crop sales probed by investigators.

"We've agreed not to bring additional charges as a result of the fraud investigation," Cardani confirmed.

Chase operated Blue Star Farms on M.J. Chase Road from 1984 until July 2011, according to state business records.

Chase's attorney, Craig Weinerman, said he had reviewed all of the government's evidence in the case and saw no allegations of mislabeled onions.

Chase was charged with wire fraud for using a telephone line to fax Grain Millers paperwork falsely representing that he purchased the corn from a U.S. Department of Agriculture-certified organic grower. A wire fraud conviction carries a potential maximum penalty of up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
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