The former manager of a western Minnesota grain elevator pleaded guilty Thursday to federal charges of mail fraud and tax evasion in a 15-year scheme to bilk his employer out of millions of dollars to pay for exotic hunting trips and other items.
Jerome "Jerry" Hennessey, 56, said in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis that he had worked for the Ashby Farmers Cooperative Elevator Co., for 30 years and used his control over its bank accounts to write personal checks that he then disguised as the co-op's business expenses. He obtained a line of credit of about $7 million for the co-op by misrepresenting the amount of grain it had in storage and used that account to cover the money he stole from his employer, which federal prosecutors say totaled about $5.3 million.
Hennessey admitted that he had not reported $3.5 million of that income between 2011 and 2017, resulting in a loss of $1.2 million in revenue to the IRS and $400,000 to the Minnesota Department of Revenue.
Hennessey must pay restitution to the victims for the money he stole and related losses they sustained, as well as the tax losses. Additional civil penalties and other tax years still could be added by tax authorities, the agreement said.
Hennessey reserved the right to object to the total amount of restitution after reviewing more than 16,000 pages of records that the government amassed in its investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney John E. Kokkinen said any final adjustment is not expected to affect the plea agreement, however.
The statutory maximum penalty for mail fraud is 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss attributed to the crime. The maximum penalty for tax evasion is five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000.
The advisory sentencing guidelines suggest a prison term of 78 to 97 months, supervised release of one to three years, and a fine of $25,000 to $250,000. Hennessey agreed not to appeal the prison sentence if it does not exceed 97 months and the government agreed not to appeal if it's at least 78 months.
Chief U.S. District Judge John Tunheim noted that he is not bound by the guidelines but said he would consider them at sentencing, which he scheduled for June 13.
Hennessey declined to comment after the hearing.
Tunheim agreed to Hennessey's request to be released from location monitoring to make it easier for him to help round up assets throughout Minnesota that can be used to help repay his victims.
Thomas Kelly, Hennessey's lawyer, said his client was trying to "recover assets that might have been on his property" before the scheme became public so they can help pay restitution. Kelly noted that Hennessey's home in Dalton, Minn., which sits on about 90 acres of land, is on the market for $795,000.
The plea agreement also listed other properties, including 400 acres with a cabin in Brook Park, Minn., and an 80-acre parcel in Eagle Lake Township, Minn., that Hennessey said is in foreclosure proceedings. He described that acreage as "pasture hunting land."
Hennessey was a regular customer of the world's top big-game guides. He paid $50,000 or more for hunting safaris in Africa, New Zealand and Alaska. He spent more than half a million dollars to have his trophies mounted and built a barn-sized addition to display them at his home just outside Ashby, a town of 440 residents some 165 miles northwest of the Twin Cities.
Hennessey also spent some of the money he stole on personal real estate purchases, property renovations and credit card balances.
Hennessey skipped town in early September as an $8 million bank loan to the elevator came due without assets to back it up. He was missing for nearly three months before turning himself in. His wife has filed for divorce. They have four children.