Judge Orders Turner Grain Not to Dispose of Assets

by Mark Friedman  on Friday, Aug. 22, 2014 3:10 pm  

A Lee County Circuit judge on Wednesday ordered Turner Grain Merchandising Inc. of Brinkley and its related entities not to sell any assets that might belong to a group of farmers who sued them.

On Monday, eight farmers sued Turner for fraud, saying they haven’t been paid for grains they sold to the company. The lawsuit was the first legal action taken against Turner and shed some light on Turner's financial situation. In addition to an unspecified amount of damages, the farmers asked that Turner be prevented from selling assets.

Circuit Judge Richard L. Proctor agreed and said in his order that "an emergency situation exists" because Turner and its related entities have the farmers' commodities, grains and/or money.

The order against Turner "should be entered to protect the stability of the Plaintiffs' farming operations and their livelihoods and to safeguard the assets of the Plaintiffs which are in the hands of Defendants of other third parties."

Turner President Dale Bartlett and Vice President Jason Coleman, along with Turner's related companies, also have been ordered not dispose "of any records and receipts and other written documentation pertaining to the events surrounding this case."

Neither Turner nor the other defendants have responded to the lawsuit or the order as of 2 p.m. Friday.

Sources have told Arkansas Business that Turner Grain appears to be close to filing for bankruptcy protection, leaving the farmers with whom it does business worried about breached contracts and possible losses.

Two sources have told Arkansas Business that the company's losses could be in the millions.

On Friday, the Arkansas Legislature's joint Agriculture, Forestry & Economic Development committee heard from state agriculture officials about the still-unfolding Turner case. They discussed how the state might mitigate losses to farmers in similar situations in the future.

One Farmer's Story

In a separate filing Wednesday, one of the farmers suing Turner Grain, Lance Gray of Helena, owner of High Roads Farms, claimed that Turner owes his business $700,000.

In an affidavit, Gray said that in July he delivered about 100,000 bushels of long grain rice from his 2013 crop harvest to Turner. But as of Wednesday, Gray hasn't been paid for delivery.  

"I have been informed that the Defendants are attempting to sell off their assets prior to any litigation taking place to avoid paying their debts," Gray said in the filing. "If I do not receive payment of my grains delivered to Defendants, my farming operation and my family's livelihood will be in jeopardy."

Gray said he's been farming for 25 years and has about 3,000 acres. He said he and the other plaintiffs are in the same situation.



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