By DEUCE NIVEN
A guilty plea entered after jury selection Tuesday ended the trial of a Tabor City area man charged with orchestrating a long-running crop insurance fraud and money-laundering scheme, U.S. Attorney Thomas G. Walker said.
Milton Russ Barnhill entered the plea in U.S. District Court in Raleigh, a news release from Walker’s office said.
Barnhill pled guilty to charges of conspiracy to defraud two federal agencies, nine counts of falsifying federal crop insurance claims and aiding and abetting others falsifying those claims, mail fraud, and five counts of using proceeds from those frauds to fund transactions of more than $10,000 in value.
Sentencing will be held later this year. Barnhill faces up to 355 years in prison.
Barnhill’s wife, Sharon Barnhill, entered a guilty plea on May 20 to making false statements to federal investigators. She has not been sentenced, and could serve up to five years in prison and be fined up to $250,000 on the felony charge of making false statements in a matter within the executive branch of the federal government.
Both Mr. and Mrs. Barnhill were charged in a 19-count indictment handed up by a federal grand jury on Feb. 27, 2014. That indictment alleged that the couple reaped more than $2.7 million through various frauds beginning in 2007.
Russ Barnhill’s guilty pleas indicate he received more than $1 million “derived from hidden crop production, underreported crop production, and overstated crop acreages, all on federal crop insurance documents,” the news release said.
Russ Barnhill has been in federal custody since Feb. 25, after failing to appear in court for a hearing earlier that month.
Russ Barnhill was a Tabor City area farmer, his wife operated a part-time hair salon.
Look for more on this story in Wednesday’s Tabor-Loris Tribune in print and online.