A Grain of Truth: Plea bargain leaves farmers frustrated

Investigates

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A KELOLAND News Investigation “A Grain of Truth,” which began in 2017, finally came to a conclusion in court. Some 60 farmers lost an estimated $8 million after hauling their crops to H&I Grain elevators in eastern South Dakota. The elevator went under and the state shut it down. Now there is a plea bargain between state prosecutors and the Steffensen family.

While they originally faced 22 charges, today in Beadle County as part of a plea bargain with the Attorney Generals’ Office, Jared, his wife Tami, and his mother JoAnn, all pleaded guilty to one felony charge in the case.

The farmers who assembled in this courtroom in Beadle County are still owed some $5 million in all. While their meeting with state prosecutors was closed to our news camera, they all have plenty to say about how this case turned out.

“There’s just a lot of frustration with all the people involved. I’m not sure we’re going to see any satisfaction. We’d like to, but don’t really expect any satisfaction financially. And we’re not sure we’re going to see any satisfaction legally from the state,” Lee said.

In July of 2016, Jared Steffensen lost somewhere between $6 million to $10 million of H&I Grain’s money hedging commodities. Even though the Steffensens knew that the elevator was insolvent, they continued to reassure farmers they were fine, took their grain, and did not notify the PUC as required by law. The Albrecht family lost more than a million dollars.

Greg Albrecht: We’re not going to get nothing out of it.”
Frank Virchow: No.

Jared and Tami Steffensen, along with JoAnn Steffensen all entered their guilty pleas following the farmer’s meeting. Jared and Tami both pleaded guilty to one felony charge of theft by deception, while JoAnn pleaded guilty to failing to notify the PUC of H&IGrain’s financial troubles, which hurt the farmers. That’s also a felony.

Jared & Tami Steffensen enter a Beadle County Courtroom on June 29, 2021

The farmers say they were let down by the state.

Kennecke: Is justice being served here today?
Virchow: No, restitution, I don’t see how they are ever going to make it, so that has no value whatsoever. I’d like to see them spend five years in the pen, both of them. They knew what they were doing the whole time they were doing it.”

The $400,000 bond that H&I Grain posted with the PUC was divided among farmers who sold their grain right away. If they waited to sell after dropping their grain off at the elevator, under state law, they weren’t protected by the bond.

H&I declared bankruptcy and some of the farmers did win a judgment against the Steffensens in civil court. Duane Steffensen who started the company was facing charges as well, but died in January of 2019.

Jared and Tami each face up to five years in prison and JoAnn faces up to two years. No sentencing date for the three has been set yet.

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