Two southeastern Colorado farmers sentenced to federal prison for defrauding federal crop insurance programs

Both also agreed to pay $6.5 million, according to the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado
Posted at 4:27 PM, Feb 29, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-29 18:56:37-05

DENVER — Two southeastern Colorado farmers were sentenced Thursday to a combined eight months in prison for allegedly defrauding federal crop insurance programs by tampering with and damaging rain gauges, according to the U.S. District Attorney’s Office of Colorado.

One way the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) supports farmers and ranchers is by providing federal funding for crop insurance programs that pay indemnities when there is less than the usual amount of precipitation, according to a spokesperson with the US Attorney General’s Office.

But Patrick Esch and Ed Dean Jagers, of Springfield, Colorado, were accused – and later plead guilty – of concocting a scheme to make it appear that there was less precipitation in their area than there actually was.

Prosecutors said that in order to carry out the scheme, Esch and Jagers tampered and damaged rain gauges in southeast Colorado between July 2016 and June 2017 “to prevent those gauges from accurately measuring rainfall.”

In their ruling, prosecutors said some of those rain gauges belonged to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and were operated by the National Weather Service (NWS).

The suspects allegedly covered these gauges with agricultural equipment and filled them with silicone to prevent them from collecting moisture. They also cut wires on the gauges or detached and then tipped over the bucket that collected precipitation, according to the complaint.

“This tampering created false records making it appear that less rain had fallen than was the case,” prosecutors said.

Both were ordered to pay $3.5 million to settle civil penalties and were also ordered to pay a combined $3.1 million in restitution.

Esch was sentenced to two months in prison, while Jagers was sentenced to six moths in prison for the crimes.

“Hardworking farmers and ranchers depend on USDA crop insurance programs, and we will not allow these programs to be abused,” said U.S. Attorney Cole Finegan. “This case also shows the full measure of justice that can be achieved when our office uses both civil and criminal tools to protect vital government programs.”

Denver 7+ Colorado News Latest Headlines | February 29, 11am

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