GREENVILLE, Miss. (AP) — The former leader of a Mississippi grain storage and processing company has been indicted on federal and state charges, more than a year after the company filed for bankruptcy, prosecutors said Tuesday.
John R. Coleman, 46, of Greenwood, Mississippi, is the former CEO of Express Grain Terminals, LLC.
A federal grand jury indicted Coleman on charges of defrauding farmers, banks and the Mississippi Department of Agriculture, U.S. Attorney Clay Joyner and Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch said in a news release.
Coleman made his initial appearance Tuesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jane M. Virden in Greenville. Federal court records did not list an attorney for him.
Federal court documents say that from June 2018 to October 2022, Coleman altered Express Grain's audited financial statements to receive a state warehouse license and lied about the amount of debt he owed on corn, wheat, soybeans or other crops held at the facility.
The federal indictment said farmers delivered grain to Express Grain throughout the 2021 harvest season but did not receive payment.
The indictment said that Express Grain sent an email to customers on Sept. 28, 2021, with wording approved by Coleman. The message said the company was in good financial shape.
"We have funding from multiple sources to make sure everyone gets paid on time," the company email said. "Stay safe out there and keep those combines rolling!"
The next day, Express Grain eventually filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
"Coleman's fraud caused widespread financial hardship and suffering throughout the Mississippi Delta and elsewhere," the federal indictment said.
In September 2021, Express Grain had $70 million in outstanding loans from UMB Bank in Kansas City, Missouri.
If convicted on the federal charges, Coleman would face up to 180 years in prison.
Fitch also said a Leflore County grand jury has indicted Coleman on five counts of making false representations to defraud government and one count of false pretenses.
The FBI, the Mississippi Attorney General's Office, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General and the Internal Revenue Service are investigating the case.
Law enforcement agents raided the Express Grain offices and Coleman's home in February, days before the company's properties were sold at auction, the Greenwood Commonwealth reported. A legal battle over Express Grain's proceeds was settled earlier this year. Farmers who chose to participate in the settlement were able to claim a share of $9 million.