Dale Bartlett, a co-owner of Turner Grain Merchandising Inc., was sentenced Saturday to five years in state prison after a jury found him guilty of one felony count of writing a hot check.
Turner Grain’s other co-owner, Jason Coleman, also had been charged with felonies in connection to $1.2 million worth of hot checks. But he committed sucide at the age of 44 in January while his charges were pending.
Bartlett’s charge stemmed from one of the checks issued by Turner Grain for $401,900, according to the arrest warrants released in 2017 by the Arkansas State Police. The Monroe County jury also fined Bartlett, 50 of Marvelle, $15,000 and ordered him to pay restitution of more than $400,000.
In August 2014, Turner Grain of Brinkley closed after it was discovered that farmers weren't being paid for crops they sold to Turner Grain. The company filed for bankruptcy protection and listed $13.7 million in assets. Its claims showed $39.7 million in debts, millions of which are owed to farmers who sold crops to Turner Grain.
In 2017, Monroe County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Baxter Sharp III asked the Arkansas State Police to investigate allegations that millions of dollars worth of hot checks had been issued to farmers within his district, according to the affidavit for the arrest warrant.
The arrest warrants said that the hot checks were issued by Turner Grain but there wasn’t enough money in the accounts to cover them. The checks ranged in value from $4,300 to $401,900.
One of Bartlett’s attorneys, Jack Lassiter of Little Rock, said he will file a notice of appeal and declined to comment further.
First Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Todd Murray commended the jury for their verdict, citing an "extremely complicated case."
"Fraud can be so confusing. But the jury hung in there — it’s evident they took their oath seriously, even working on Saturday to finish this thing, and they exposed Dale Bartlett for what he really is — a fraud and a crook," Murray said in a news release. "What he did rocked the entire farming industry."