A Center, CO, potato wholesaler will face up to 24 years in prison after being convicted in mid-October on two counts of felony theft for not paying for $200,000 worth of potatoes.
Richard Alan Messick, 45, was found guilty of "illegally converting to his own use" the potatoes that were to be purchased from four San Luis Valley potato growers.
Colorado Assistant Attorney General Terrence Gillespie, who prosecuted the case under the Colorado Farm Products Act, said Messick faces four to 12 years on each count.
The case sent shock waves through the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado where potatoes are usually sold on a handshake.
District Judge O. John Kuenhold will sentence Messick, a second-generation valley farmer and potato shipper, on Dec. 13. He is currently free on a $50,000 bond.
Gary Graalman, an investigator for the Colorado Department of Agriculture, said the 1987 Farm products Act is intended to protect the integrity of Colorado agriculture. This marked the first time the Act has been used in southern Colorado's potato industry.
Messick and David M. Riffe, 42, of Colorado Springs, who still faces a criminal trial, formed Sargent Potato Co. LLC, and contracted to buy potatoes from Galen, Brian and Ellis Harrison and Jack Felmlee in 1996. Messick and Riffe sold the potatoes and paid themselves. The men changed their corporate structure and business name several times until it collapsed.
Messick's attorney blamed Riffe for "cooking the books" and denied that Messick would knowingly steal from his neighbors. The criminal case stemmed from a civil trial last year.
Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar filed the charges in may, saying "this action sends a message that people have to play by the rules in order to preserve the integrity of Colorado agriculture or suffer the consequences."