St. Louis Public Radio News
4:44 pm
Thu August 5, 2010

Audit of Mo. grain regulators released

Jefferson City, Mo. – A state audit finds that the Missouri Department of Agriculture could have done a better job of protecting grain farmers from financial loss.

Farmers lost more than $32 million after grain dealerships in Martinsburg and Gallatin went belly-up in February 2009. Most of that came from the collapse of the Martinsburg dealership run by Cathy Gieseker, who pleaded guilty to defrauding 180 farmers in a ponzi scheme.

State Auditor Susan Montee says the agency's Grain Regulatory Services (GRS) program could have spotted the irregularities sooner and prevented some of the financial loss.

"The losses would have been about $11 million less...now, I'm not saying that they could have prevented that full amount, but certainly the could have uncovered it at a much sooner time," Montee told reporters at a press conference today.

At the Gallatin dealership, the audit finds that GRS personnel allowed assets to be counted that were not directly related to selling grain.

"There was kind of an attitude (in both cases) that nothing had failed and that everyone would get along, and the department kind of didn't want to make anybody mad, everyone's a partner in this," Montee said. "But at some point, you have to recognize that GRS was set up as a regulatory body to protect the producers."

In a written statement, Agriculture Director Dr. Jon Hagler says they've improved their job performance and continue to put new safeguards in place. Montee also says grain regulators have improved their performance of late.