Express Grain CEO to Change Fraud Plea

CEO of Mississippi Grain Company Set to Change Plea in Wire Fraud Case

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Environmental Editor
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The former CEO of Express Grain in Mississippi is expected to change his plea in a wire fraud trial set for Feb. 26. (DTN file photo)

LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- The former CEO of Greenwood, Mississippi-based Express Grain is set to change his plea just ahead of a scheduled trial on wire fraud charges.

A change of plea hearing for John R. Coleman has been scheduled for Feb. 22 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Northern Mississippi. His trial is set to begin Feb. 26.

Coleman pled not guilty when he was arrested in December 2022 after a grand jury issued a six-count indictment on wire fraud charges. The charges came in connection to Express Grain's Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings.

The federal grand jury accused Coleman of defrauding farmers, banks, and the Mississippi Department of Agriculture. A charge of wire fraud is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.

From June 2018 to October 2022, the federal indictment said, Coleman schemed to "obtain money by means of false and fraudulent pretenses, representations and promises. John R. Coleman intentionally misled farmers, lenders and the Mississippi State Board of Agriculture to induce them to deliver grain to Express Grain, lend money to Express Grain and provide Express Grain with warehouse licenses despite Coleman's direct knowledge that Express Grain was in severe financial distress."

According to the indictment, beginning in 2018, Coleman made "material changes" to his company's audited financial statements for 2017, including removing the "emphasis of matter regarding a going concern" paragraph.

On or about June 7, 2018, Coleman allegedly emailed the altered financial statements to the Mississippi Board of Agriculture "claiming that they were the legitimate financial statements" of the company.

The federal indictment alleges Coleman made the same changes to Express Grain's financials in 2018, 2019 and 2020. He then emailed those statements to the state to renew his grain warehouse license.

On or about Sept. 4, 2021, Coleman allegedly emailed fraudulent financial statements to Kansas City, Missouri-based UMB Bank.

On Sept. 22, 2021, UMB Bank requested a warehouse receipt report showing the amount of grain held by the company that "had been pledged as collateral to UMB Bank," as well as the amount of grain pledged or sold to third parties.

In one instance, Coleman claimed 100,000 bushels had been sold to FC Stone in a purchase and sale agreement. The indictment said 2.78 million bushels had been sold to FC Stone, a difference of $30 million.

UMB Bank issued a notice of default to Express Grain demanding the immediate payment of about $70.7 million.

Express Grain filed for bankruptcy on Sept. 29, 2021, according to court records.

Though farmers lost millions of dollars, court records indicate farmer creditors will divide just $9 million as part of a settlement.

In February 2022, UMB Bank purchased Express Grain at an auction for $25 million, according to court records. UMB bought three storage warehouses and a soybean-processing plant. The purchase reduced the company's debt to the bank to $45 million.

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Todd Neeley

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