Extravagant hunting trips may have stuck fatal blow to Minnesota co-op

Colleen Kottke
Wisconsin State Farmer

ASHBY, Minn. — A 110-year-old grain elevator closed its doors this week after it’s general manager allegedly misappropriated more than $2 million from its coffers.

Police lights by night

According to a letter that was sent to its members on Sept. 12, the Ashby Farmers Cooperative Elevator in west central Minnesota alerted members that following an initial investigation by its board of directors, it was learned that long-time general manager Jerry Hennessey allegedly issued checks that included $375,000 for safari hunting trips, more than $1 million to cover purchases on his personal Cabela’s Club credit card and over $500,000 for taxidermy services.

Officials said Hennessey was scheduled to return following an overseas hunting trip at the end of August. However, Hennessey and the co-op’s operating loan payment to the bank never appeared. 

In the letter, the board said that in addition to the personal purchases made with the co-op’s funds, a significant amount of the company’s grain inventory--reported on the co-op’s financial statements—was missing. Initial investigation shows the thefts began in 2008.

The board has retained Ahlgren Law Office PLLC, a Fergus Falls-based law firm, as well as Eide Bailly, a forensic accounting firm, to conduct an investigation and to advise the board.

“The board does not expect to have funds to pay the co-op’s outstanding obligations in full,” Ahlgren said, in the release. “The co-op may have an insurable loss for theft. It may also be able to recover assets from other sources, but it is unlikely that the co-op will be able to pay any obligations before the end of the year.”

According to the Grand Forks Herald, the Grant County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the alleged embezzlement and may involved the USDA and state of Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

The co-op’s board is “actively seeking new owners who will be able to re-open the elevator,  but cannot provide a timeline as to if or when this may happen,” the letter said.

The elevator was established in 1908 and generates $1.9 million in annual revenues and employs five people.