SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — In 2017, our KELOLAND News Investigation began looking into fraud concerning H&I Grain. One of the owners of the elevator, Jared Steffensen, was selling grain without paying farmers and then gambled away as much as $10 million dollars, hedging commodities. His wife Tami and his mother JoAnn both pleaded guilty to helping to cover up the crimes. Our cameras were there for the final chapter in this investigation.
Five years after the farmers found out they had been defrauded by H&I Grain, the Steffensens were finally sentenced by a judge in court.
“Over the years I had built up this relationship with H&I Grain and I trusted him. When you call in and they say the check is in the mail. And I know my check was thrown in the garbage,” Farmer Ed Wilkinson, who lost $83,000, said.
Ed Wilkinson is one of the farmers who spoke to the judge in the Beadle County courtroom, as Jared, his wife Tami and his mother JoAnn were all sentenced on one felony count each, as part of a plea bargain.
The farmers are still owed some $5 million dollars. Jared Steffensen had offered to begin reimbursing them through his job at H&I Trucking.
“Well he’s offering to take that truck and come haul our grain off the farm to town. Well, we sold him our grain once and we lost it. So can we trust him to haul our grain again?” Brian Erickson, who lost $42,000, said.
The farmers all testified they didn’t believe that the Steffensens were remorseful for their crimes, even after facing charges.
“They’ve still been living their lifestyle, which to me shows no remorse to the community whatsoever,” Erickson said.
However, today in court all three Steffensens apologized to the crowd of farmers.
Jared said, “I destroyed many, many lives with my actions. I did this to them and I will spend the next 30 years trying to make it up to them.”
In court, Tami cried and told the farmers she thought she could save the company. She said, “No words will ever explain how sorry I am for the burden I have caused.”
JoAnn also apologized saying “These are people that are my friends, my neighbors, my relatives.”
Kennecke: When Jared apologized, Tami apologized, JoAnn apologized, was that enough? It’s not enough.
Erickson: No, I don’t believe they’re remorseful. I believe any defendant at their sentencing hearing is going to apologize.
The Steffensens all asked Judge Kent Shelton for probation saying they were not a threat to the community. Judge Shelton agreed in the case of JoAnn Steffensen, sentencing her to 120 days in county jail, plus 2 years probation and ordered her to pay $4.9 million dollars in restitution along with her son and daughter-in-law. But in the cases of Jared and Tami the judge said he didn’t believe their remorse was genuine, that they took very little accountability and that they had repeatedly lied to the producers.
Judge Shelton sentenced Jared and Tami to the full five years in prison.
Kennecke: Do you think the producers will ever see the $5 million?
South Dakota Assistant Attorney General, Brent Kememma: $5 million is a lot of money. There’s hope that some of the producers will get some of it, but at the end of the day, we don’t expect they are going to be fully compensated.
The Albrechts, who have five family farms, don’t ever expect to see the $1 million they lost returned to them.
“It is very hard and it’s sad and it’s hurt a lot of people,” Susanne Albrecht said.
Tami and Jared Steffenensen could be out of prison in 15 months. Prosecutors expect they may appeal their sentences.
An attorney representing many of the farmers in a civil case are hoping that a legal action brought against CHS Hedging, for allowing Jared Steffensen to get millions of dollars in the hole, may help recover some of their money.