After nearly 30 years as general manager of a grain elevator in Ashby, Minn., Jerry Hennessey disappeared just as authorities began looking into a major problem with the elevator’s books.
Now the Ashby Farmers Cooperative Elevator believes Hennessey may have stolen more than $2 million and spent it on hunting safaris, taxidermy, home improvements and other personal expenses, a lawyer for the co-op board said last week.
Hennessey was last seen two weeks ago, and “it’s my understanding that there has been no further hide nor hair of him” since then, said Erik Ahlgren, a Fergus Falls lawyer who is representing the co-op as it tries to piece together the money trail.
The elevator, which is jointly owned by about 300 farmers, closed Sept. 10 and is essentially bankrupt, Ahlgren said.
“We have been talking to area co-ops about acquiring the assets and reopening the elevator,” he said. “The most important thing is to get this elevator open.”
People in Ashby, a town of 440 residents about 165 miles northwest of the Twin Cities, had wondered whether Hennessey was living beyond his means, Ahlgren said.
Hennessey went on hunting trips to such places as Alaska, New Zealand and Australia. He had an extensive collection of professionally mounted trophies at his home and even built a special room to hold them.
“The story was that he was really good at grain trading and he traded for his own accounts,” Ahlgren said. “I can’t tell you whether he really did, but that was the story.”
When Ahlgren started going through the elevator’s financial records, he said he found checks signed by Hennessey totaling more than $2 million, including $500,000 to a taxidermist, nearly $400,000 to hunting outfitters and more than $1.1 million to a Cabela’s Club Visa card.
The elevator’s finances began to unravel when a “substantial” loan came due on Sept. 1 from CoBank, a federal organization that provides financing for agricultural co-ops, Ahlgren said. Hennessey had told the board that he planned to refinance the loan.
When CoBank officials called the loan, the elevator didn’t have the money to pay — and what’s more, its grain bins were virtually empty, meaning there was no inventory to back the loan.
Grant County Sheriff Troy Langlie said his office is investigating the case with assistance from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
“We have been very busy gathering data,” Langlie said. “We’re chasing the paper right now trying to substantiate the allegations. We’re at the mercy of banks and credit card companies to get us documents.”
Langlie said he’s reported Hennessey to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, but he’s not optimistic about finding the missing manager any time soon.
Meanwhile, farmers who haven’t been paid for grain they sold to the elevator will have to file bond claims with the elevator’s insurer, but it’s uncertain whether the bonds will fully cover any losses, Ahlgren said.
“There are going to be people hurt out here, no question,” he said.