Lonoke County Farmers Sue Turner Grain

by Lance Turner  on Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014 4:34 pm  

Four farm companies in Lonoke County filed a sharply worded lawsuit Friday against Turner Grain Merchandising Inc. of Brinkley and its related companies that alleges fraud, theft by deception and breach of contract.

The companies — Hardke Farms, Isbell Farms, K&K Farms and Schafer Farms — say they each sold Turner Grain more than $75,000 worth of rice but haven't been paid. They want their rice back, and they want to prevent Turner Grain and other defendants from disposing of assets. The complaint filed in Lonoke County Circuit Court seeks unspecified damages.

"The property of the Farmers has been taken by deception and thus all of the actors that obtained rice from the Farmers by deception are the equivalent of a thief," the lawsuit said.

The farmers also named another company unrelated to Turner as a defendant: KBX Inc. of Benton.

The farmers alleged that KBX purchased the grain they'd sold to Turner knowing that Turner was in bad financial shape. The farmers said KBX has not paid them for the grain, either.

"KBX knew of the financial problems and questionable activities of [Turner executives] Jason Coleman, Dale Bartlett and Neauman Coleman …" the lawsuit said.

"KBX failed to inform Shafer Farms of these financial problems and questionable activities of its agent to the detriment of the Farmers," the lawsuit continues. "KBX had begun to withhold its commission payments from Turner Grain, its agent, but allowed Turner Grain, through Christopher Taylor and other employees, to contract on behalf of KBX as purchaser."

The lawsuit is the second filed in as many weeks against Turner Grain, its affiliated companies and leaders, specifically Bartlett, the Colemans and Christopher Taylor.

Turner Grain acts as middleman between the farmers who produce grains and the companies that purchase it. The company contracts to buy grain, takes possession of it, finds a buyer, and then pays farmers once it sells the grain.

But farmers are alleging that Turner has defaulted on its payments, leaving them worried about breached contracts and possible losses, which Arkansas' Agriculture Secretary Butch Calhoun has said could be upwards of $50 million.

No one affiliated with Turner Grain has returned repeated calls for comment. Steven Keith, who is listed as president of KBX, a long-grain rice supplier, did not return a message seeking comment.

A separate group of farmers filed a lawsuit against Turner Grain on Aug. 18 in Lee County. Like the farmers in Lonoke County, the Lee County group said that they had commodities contracts to sell grain to Turner. They said Turner either hadn't paid them for their products or that checks they received from the company didn't clear, despite Turner having sold their grain to third parties.

More: A Lee County judge heard more details about Turner Grain in a hearing today.

Both lawsuits name more than a dozen entities they say are related to Turner Grain and controlled by the Colemans, Barlett and Taylor. The Lonoke County lawsuit alleges that the companies are "mere alter egos" of the men, used to "create 'expenses' to move money among the various interrelated, and alter ego, companies …"



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