Grass seed manager gets prison in $15M laundering scheme

Crime

Christopher Claypool to spend 3 years in federal prison

A judge’s gavel is shown in a file photo. (Credit: iStock / Getty Images Plus)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The former general manager of a grass seed and turfgrass company will spend 3 years in prison for conspiracy and money laundering, the US Attorney’s Office in Oregon announce.

Christopher Claypool, who was the general manager of the Jacklin Seed Company, was sentenced to 3 years in federal prison and 3 years of supervised release. He was ordered to pay restitution, and authorities said he “has already paid nearly $8.3 million in restitution and agreed to forfeit nearly $7.8 million in criminally derived proceeds.”

The case

Claypool, 52, of Spokane, managed Jacklin Seed Company, which contracted with independent growers in Oregon to produce grass seed varieties and fulfill orders from a distribution facility in Albany, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The J.R. Simplot Company owned Jacklin at the time of the crimes.

At some point between 2013 and 2015, Claypool and other employees realized growers’ preference for higher-yield grasses was causing shortages of the lower-yield varieties Jacklin had promised to deliver to its customers, authorities said.

So, starting in January 2015, Claypool and an unnamed colleague directed employees at the Albany facility and elsewhere to fill customer orders with different varieties of grass seed than they had ordered, swap the labels, and invoice customers for the original amount, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. The scheme lasted more than four years, until at least the summer of 2019.

Claypool and his colleague referred to the scheme as “getting creative,” according to authorities.

Jacklin allegedly billed customers for more than $1.1 million of seed the company never delivered.

Claypool also perpetrated several other fraudulent arrangements, including directing an accomplice to create a limited-liability corporation to pose as a grass seed broker, route a portion of Jacklin’s overseas sales through a competing company, add a mark-up to the sales and then send outsized commissions to Claypool through the LLC, generating more than $369,000 in less than a year, authorities said.

In a third plot, Claypool conspired with a travel agency in Spokane to inflate the reported costs of his international business travel, creating fake first-class bookings on the most expensive itineraries so he could send inflated invoices to Simplot for reimbursement. In total, the agent overbilled more than $500,000 for international airfare, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

The most lucrative fraud occurred when Claypool directed Simplot’s payment of more than $12 million in “rebates” and “commissions” to co-conspirators who were posing as foreign sales partners, the U.S. Attorney’s Office claims. They transmitted part of their gains from accounts in Hong Kong to real estate investments in Hawaii, which Claypool controlled, authorities said. He then sold the real estate and wired the proceeds to investment accounts in Spokane.

On March 15, 2021, Claypool waived indictment and pleaded guilty to all charges.

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