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Prosecutors: Cooperstown potato farmers spoiled crop, defrauded government for $840,000

FARGO – Federal prosecutors say two North Dakota brothers and potato farmers defrauded the government out of nearly $840,000 by intentionally ruining their crops to collect insurance payments.

Aaron and Derek Johnson, farmers near Cooperstown, were charged in U.S. District Court in Fargo with conspiracy to commit crimes against the United States for the alleged potato-spoiling plot in 2006, as well as four counts of making false statements.

The brothers’ company, Johnson Potato Co., was also charged.

According to the indictment unsealed this week, the Johnson brothers stored unsold potatoes in a Cooperstown warehouse after harvest in 2006. The indictment alleges the brothers poured Rid-X, a septic system treatment product, into their containers, added rotten potatoes and turned on large portable heaters above 80 degrees “to accelerate the spoilage process in the potatoes.”

The pair reported the loss to their insurance company as a result of natural diseases, according to the indictment. Both brothers continued to insist to federal crop insurers that their crops were lost naturally, as recently as May 2009.

The Johnson brothers’ attorney could not be reached for comment. They are scheduled for their first court appearance Feb. 26.

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