Farmer Charged With $5.6 Million Crop Insurance Fraud, Money Laundering

A farmer has been charged by a federal prosecutor with filing false federal crop insurance claims to collect in excess of $5.6 million.

United States Attorney Robert J. Higdon, Jr. announced Friday morning charges against James Scott Wiggins, 43, of Wayne County.

Wiggins is charged with conspiracy to commit various offenses against the United States, false statements to the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation, material false statements to the Farm Service Agency, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

According to the federal court complaint, Wiggins and other persons worked together to defraud the government, through the filing of false federal crop insurance claims and false federal crop disaster relief claims, to structure transactions to evade reporting requirements, and to engage in various financial transactions to conceal the fraud.

The conspirators owned and rented farmland in Lenoir, Wayne, and Greene Counties, and produced crops including tobacco, corn, wheat, and soybeans.

Prosecutors allege the conspirators hid some or all of their tobacco and grain productions by selling it in nominee names or for cash to a co-conspiring tobacco warehouseman and grain dealers.

The conspirators profited under the scheme because they were paid twice for each pound of tobacco or bushel of grain: once through the false crop insurance claim, and also through the sale of the hidden crop.

Wiggins reportedly submitted the false production data in connection with his federal crop disaster claim, thereby getting disaster relief monies to which he was not entitled.

Between 2007 and 2011, Wiggins and the others collectively filed false claims in excess of $5.6 million. The conspirators, among other things, paid farming expenses and outstanding loan balances with the proceeds from their criminal conduct.

“Put very simply, this defendant stole more than $5 million from the taxpayers of this State and this Country,” Higdon said. “This type of crime is what undermines the solvency of our federal programs and deprives those who need the funds of that support. I want to commend the investigators who have pursued these cases for so long. Their effort to protect the public’s money is key to the success of programs like the Federal Crop Insurance Program.”

The charges in this case stem from an on-going, multi-target crop insurance fraud investigation in the Eastern District of North Carolina. To date, 47 people including other farmers, agents, and adjusters have been prosecuted for similar criminal conduct.

The investigation of this case was conducted by the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigations; the United States Department of Agriculture – Office of Inspector General; and the United States Department of Agriculture – Risk Management Agency, Special Investigations Branch. Assistant United States Attorney Banumathi Rangarajan is handling the prosecution on behalf to the Eastern District of North Carolina.