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Huber found guilty on all counts

A federal jury in Fargo Wednesday found a Wimbledon, N.D., man guilty of defrauding the United States out of about $14 million in farm program benefits.

A federal jury in Fargo Wednesday found a Wimbledon, N.D., man guilty of defrauding the United States out of about $14 million in farm program benefits.

The jury's ruling against Duane Huber, a crop insurance agent and farmer, is the largest farm fraud conviction in the state's history, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Clare Hochhalter.

The case also marked the first time a North Dakota farm operation was part of a conviction on racketeering charges, U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley said.

"North Dakotans will not wink and turn the other cheek to fraud, money laundering and racketeering, including our ag sector," Wrigley said. "Folks recognize that each dollar taken by agriculture program fraud is another dollar that never makes it to the family farmer working to stay on the land."

The jury unanimously found Huber guilty of all 19 criminal charges filed against him, including conspiracy to defraud the United States, filing false income tax returns and three counts of money laundering.


Huber, 58, stoically looked ahead as guilty verdicts were read on each charge.

He and his attorney, Irv Nodland of Bismarck, declined comment after the trial.

The jury reached the unanimous decision about 2:30 p.m. Wednesday. They began weighing eight days of testimony Tuesday afternoon.

After the verdicts were read, the jury again met in secret to rule on what assets Huber would forfeit to the government.

His conviction on money laundering charges opened the door for prosecutors to seek forfeiture of assets that could be tied to the fraud scheme, Hochhalter said.

Jurors had a more difficult time agreeing on the value of assets they would order Huber to forfeit.

The jury forwarded a note to U.S. District Judge Rodney Webb at 5 p.m., saying they couldn't reach a consensus on a forfeiture order.

Webb recommended they continue deliberating. They reached a compromise about 30 minutes later.


Prosecutors wanted Huber to forfeit $14 million in assets, but the jury ordered Huber to surrender assets valued at $5.9 million.

Huber took the stand briefly during the trial's forfeiture phase, saying the government's list of assets is inaccurate. Some of the vehicles and farm machinery have been sold, he said.

Huber also said he operated about 68,000 acres of North Dakota farmland, including land the jury ruled to be "sham" farms.

Just what assets Huber will surrender will be determined at a later hearing, Webb said.

The 61-page indictment against Huber includes 22 pages of land descriptions, machinery and vintage automobiles that prosecutors said can be tied to the scheme.

Webb said Huber will likely be imprisoned. His sentencing hearing is Feb. 7. Huber was released until then.

Huber and two of his businesses, Huber Farms Inc. and Huber Farms General Partnership, operated five sham farms to evade payment limitations for farm program benefits for six years, the jury ruled.

Huber operated five sham farms between 1994 and 1999 to evade payment limits for federal farm program funds and crop insurance benefits, it also said.


He paid four men, agents in his Wimbledon-based crop insurance company, to falsify government applications that qualified them for farm program benefits.

On government forms, the men falsely claimed to have run the farms, when they were really operated by Huber.

The arrangement allowed Huber to quadruple the farm program benefits to which he was entitled, Hochhalter said.

In those six years, Huber illegally collected about $3.6 million in crop insurance payments, about $1.6 million in farm program benefits, and about $9.6 million in crop sales, the indictment says.

It was money Huber made from the crop sales that the jury did not include in their forfeiture order, Hochhalter said.

Government officials believe the scheme began in 1988, but they couldn't prove it, Hochhalter said.

Prosecutors also charged Huber's 28-year-old son, Steven, saying he took part in the fraud. But U.S. District Judge Rodney Webb threw out that case Friday, ruling prosecutors had insufficient evidence to show Steven Huber knowingly participated in any scheme.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Jeff Zent at (701) 241-5526

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