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Forum News Service, Published February 27 2014

Two N.D. farmers plead not guilty in potato fraud case

FARGO – Two North Dakota farmers pleaded not guilty Wednesday in federal court to felony charges of trying to defraud the U.S. government out of nearly $840,000 by spoiling their own potatoes.

Aaron and Derek Johnson, brothers who farm near Cooperstown, appeared in U.S. District Court in Fargo to plead not guilty to charges related to a federal crop insurance scheme that federal prosecutors say they ran from 2006 to 2009.

Charging documents say the Johnsons stored their unsold potatoes in a warehouse near their farm in 2006, then added Rid-X and rotten potatoes to the containers and turned on portable heaters to get them to spoil faster.

The indictment said the brothers then reported the loss as being due to natural diseases, court documents say.

Both Johnsons pleaded not guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit crimes against the United States, one count of making false statements to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and one count of making false statements to law enforcement.

Aaron Johnson also pleaded not guilty to a second count of making false statements to the USDA.

The charge of making false statements to the USDA carries with it a potential 30-year maximum prison term if convicted.