RALEIGH — An Oxford tobacco warehouse owner pleaded guilty in federal court Monday to a fraud insurance scam and could face up to five years in prison.
Keaton Rankin’s charges include conspiring to make false statement, making material false statement, committing mail and wire fraud, and structuring transactions.
Rankin, from September 2006 to November 2007, conspired with others to defraud the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation, according to a Department of Justice news release. The government lost $400,000 in the deception.
In the scheme, co-conspiring farmers would obtain insurance policies for their crops, and then file false crop insurance claims. They hid their tobacco production by selling it in small volumes for cash or under fake names to evade reporting requirements.
Rankin, among others, paid in cash or in checks to false names to hide the sales, so the farmer would be paid for their crops twice: by buyers and the federal insurance company governed by the Department of Agriculture.
Farmers gave Rankin better prices when Rankin allowed them to pay cash, so he also benefited by earning more per pound of tobacco. He sold the crop to United Tobacco Company, and worked with an employee of Universal Leaf North America to conceal sales, the news release states.