A federal investigation in Tallahassee has led to 29 people being brought up on charges, including one federal official, in a corruption case after a months-long investigation. The investigation uncovered “widespread public corruption” according to federal authorities over farm money that has allegedly been misused. Federal authorities say that the scheme defrauded taxpayers of nearly $400,000 intended as subsidies for drought-stricken farmers.
Federal authorities targeted Duane Edward Crawson, a county-level director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture who they say masterminded the entire scheme. Crawson is accused of stealing drought relief money and then hiding the transactions using identity theft, wire fraud, tax evasion, and several other crimes. They claim funds were distributed to at least two dozen others who were involved in the conspiracy.
How Did They Steal the Money?
U.S. Attorney Lawrence Keefe described the conspirator’s actions as “breathtakingly bold”. That was no compliment. Crawson is accused of filing false drought relief claims on behalf of his co-conspirators for a fee. The co-conspirators lied to federal authorities claiming their losses were greater than they actually were, if there were any losses at all.
Indictments were handed down for 28 co-conspirators along with Crawson who will receive the lion’s share of the blame. Their trial will begin in January 2020.
Taking a Look at the Charges
Crawson will be accused of conspiracy and a host of other charges related to the blatant theft of farm subsidies for struggling Florida farmers. For Crawson, the charges can pile up in a hurry. Federal charges come with federal mandatory minimum sentences which can be quite lengthy in some situations. Stacked together, Crawson could be looking at 30 years but will likely plead down to avoid a lengthy trial.
While the defendants have pleaded not guilty to fraud, identity theft, and other related charges, it doesn’t sound likely that they’ll be able to substantiate the claims they made against the federal subsidy fund. In other words, they’re in a very difficult situation.
As an example, a charge of wire fraud comes with a maximum $250,000 fine which is more than half of the money they stole and more than Crawson would have received in kickbacks. Since Crawson will be charged with every false claim he made, that’s going to add up to a lot of money. The maximum penalty for wire fraud is 20 years in federal prison.
Crawson will also be charged with identity theft which carries a maximum 15-year federal prison sentence and again, these charges will be stacked for every instance of identity theft Crawson carried out.
His co-conspirators are now better off. They will likely be charged with wire fraud and attempting to defraud the federal government. The feds will likely try to turn them against Crawson offering them deals for reduced prison time.
Talk to a West Palm Beach Criminal Defense Attorney
If you’ve been charged with defrauding the federal government using fake identities or filing false claims, the West Palm Beach criminal attorneys at the Skier Law Firm, P.A. can help you set up a viable defense against the charges. Talk to us today to set up an appointment.