Manager accused in $15M grass seed money laundering scheme

Crime

Christopher Claypool is accused of ripping off an ag company and its customers numerous times

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The former manager of a Washington grass seed company faces decades in prison and $15 million in fines for numerous schemes of wire fraud and money laundering.

Christopher 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 alleged 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 allegedly 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 alleged 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.

Jacklin Seed in Albany, as seen in 2017 (Google Maps)

Claypool is accused of perpetrating 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.

Officials accuse Claypool of, in a third plot, conspiring 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 allegedly sold the real estate and wired the proceeds to investment accounts in Spokane.

Claypool faces up to 70 years in prison and more than $15 million in fines if convicted. IRS Criminal Investigation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General are investigating the case.

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