Elevator closes amid allegations of manager misspending
A west-central Minnesota grain elevator is going belly up, alleging that its general manager spent more than $2 million of its funds for hunting safaris, taxidermy and other expenditures.
The Ashby Farmers Cooperative Elevator Co. stopped taking deliveries on Sept. 10 and will officially close for business on Sept. 14, the company said in a letter to members on Sept. 12. The board's initial investigation has revealed that Jerry Hennessey, the co-op's general manager, signed checks that included $375,000 for safari hunting trips, more than $500,000 for taxidermy and more than $1 million for personal Cabela's Club Visa card expenditures.
The unauthorized withdrawals have been reported to the Grant County Sheriff's department, and a deputy has been assigned to conduct an investigation.
Added investigations may include the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the state of Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, said Erik Ahlgren.
The board will hold an informational meeting for members and patrons on Tuesday, Sept. 18, at 7 p.m. at the co-op's warehouse at in Ashby, which is 20 miles southeast of Fergus Falls.
The co-op's board will be "actively seeking new owners who will be able to re-open the elevator, but cannot provide a timeline as to if or when this may happen," the letter said.
The elevator was established in 1908 and generates $1.9 million in annual revenues and employs five people.
In the letter, the board said they learned they are missing a significant amount of the company's grain inventory that was reported on the co-op's financial statements. On Sept. 10 the board met and retained Ahlgren Law Office PLLC, a Fergus Falls-based law firm, as well as Eide Bailly, a forensic accounting firm, to conduct an investigation and to advise the board.
"The board does not expect to have funds to pay the co-op's outstanding obligations in full," Ahlgren said in the release. "The co-op may have an insurable loss for theft. It may also be able to recover assets from other sources, but it is unlikely that the co-op will be able to pay any obligations before the end of the year."
The Minnesota Grain and Feed Association in 2014 listed the elevator as having 151,000 bushels of grain storage, handling wheat, corn, oats and soybeans, and offering grain drying,
feed, seed and animal health supplies.
"Please note that our investigation into this situation is continuing, but it is early in the investigation," the letter said. "As our members, friends and neighbors, we intend to keep you updated on the facts."
A website for Chris Bilkey's Track and Trail Safaris of New Zealand, offering "personal, professional safaris" for tahr and red stag, lists Jerry and Becky Hennessey as having taken a trip in June 2011.
"We both said that it was better than anticipated, your place, hospitality, and hunting are second to none, and we really enjoyed our conversation and our education we learned from both of you on yourselves and your country," said a review comment attributed to the couple.
Bilkey offers "fair chase, free range" hunting of tahr, a kind of large, wild goat, on privately-managed property. Tahr is native to Nepal and northern India. It has a feral range on the south island of New Zealand. The company also offers hunts for red deer, chamois, fallow deer and water buffalo.
Jerry Hennessey is listed in 2018 as involved in fundraisers for Safari Club International events in Minnesota. He is listed as a "member reference" for a hunt advertised for a muskox hunt in Greenland, offered as an auction item for Minnesota SCI's 42nd Annual World Hunting in February 2017.