S.D. Couple Found Guilty in $1.3M Farm Fraud Case

October 3, 2005

A Rapid City, S.D. couple has pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to conspiring to defraud the U.S. government out of more than $1.3 million in farm benefits.

Connie S. Finneman, 46, and David M. Finneman, 50, were both indicted in late 2003 on multiple counts of conspiracy to defraud the government, wire fraud and federal crop insurance fraud.

The couple’s son, Chad T. Finneman, 25; David Finneman’s brother Steven A. Finneman, 47; and Connie Finneman’s brother Bernard F. Schillo, 49, were later indicted on various counts of conspiracy, wire fraud and federal crop insurance fraud in the same case.

According to federal court documents, Connie and David Finneman have each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and one count of conspiracy to make false statements to the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation. Each could face a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine when sentenced Dec. 6. The couple has agreed to pay $1 million in restitution.

Court documents indicate that between 1996 and 1999, the Finnemans farmed in Ziebach, Meade, Pennington and Bennett counties and received payments from the Farm Service Agency and Federal Crop Insurance Corporation, also known as Risk Management Agency.

After reaching their annual payment limit, the couple illegally circumvented the law by conspiring to sign up three relatives to receive FSA benefits, knowing they were not eligible for those benefits.

Prosecutors say the couple created “sham ownership farming operations” allegedly operated by Chad Finneman, Steven Finneman and Bernard Schillo. On paper, the operations appeared to be separate, but each farm was owned, operated or leased by Connie and David Finneman. Benefits received by the sham operations were directed to Connie and David Finneman’s accounts.

According to court documents, Connie and David Finneman received about $1.35 million in federal farm benefits to which they were not entitled.

Court documents indicate that Steven Finneman is a truck driver who lives in Montana. Schillo is an oil field manager and worker in North Dakota. Chad Finneman worked for his parents but did not provide enough capital, management or equipment to the farming operation to qualify for benefits

Sentencing is set for Dec. 6 before U.S. District Judge Richard Battey.

Cases are still pending against Chad Finneman, Steven Finneman and Schillo. However, under the plea agreement, felony charges against Chad Finneman will be dismissed after his parents are sentenced.

Copyright 2005, Rapid City Journal

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