ELBOW LAKE, Minn. - The defunct Ashby Farmers Cooperative Elevator Co. in west-central Minnesota is going after more than $800,000 from six guiding services who had received checks direct from the co-op to pay for “exotic and expensive” hunts by its former general manager.
Jerry Hennessey on Feb. 14 pleaded guilty to federal criminal fraud charges related to accusations that embezzled more than $5 million over several years while managing the elevator and is scheduled to be sentenced June 12. Penalties could range up to eight years in prison and $6.5 million in restitution.
Because of the losses, the co-op closed its doors in September 2018 and leased out its facilities.
Lawyer Erik Ahlgren of Fergus Falls is working to retrieve $559,965 from checks written directly from the co-op to hunting and guiding companies. He says other checks to the companies may have come from Hennessey or other sources.
The civil suits were filed in Grant County District Court at Elbow Lake. The co-op served all of the guides on Jan. 8 at a Safari Club International event in Reno, Nev.
The largest civil claim is against is for $312,150 against Jay Link, sole owner of Link’s Wild Safaris of Superior, Wis.
Link’s attorneys asked to dismiss the claims, on grounds Link isn’t a Minnesotan and doesn’t have a business there.
Ahlgren said Link had received checks “clearly identified” as coming form the co-op. Elevator records indicated Hennessey internally had labeled the payments “soybeans, wheat, corn feed.”
Link established Link’s Wild Safaris in about 2014. Link had met with Hennessey at Safari Club International meetings in Nevada.
Co-op checks ranging from $5,500 to $73,750 were written to Link from Oct. 30, 2015, to Feb. 18, 2018. Based on the name of the co-op checks, Link “knew or should have known they were taking checks from an agricultural cooperative for expenses unrelated to the business,” Ahlgren argues.
The 2015 transactions involved a trip to Uganda. The 2016 and 2017 transactions involved two hunts to Cameroon. The 2018 transactions involved a hunt to Nepal.
Ahlgren said Link had strong ties to Minnesota, in that prior to 2009, he was president and chief executive officer for Jack Link’s Beef Jerky, with manufacturing facilities in Mankato. In an online description, Link described it as “the largest meat snack business in the world.”
Others named in the lawsuits are Diekie Muller Hunting Safaris of San Juan Capistrano, Calif., Track & Trail Safaris,in New Zealand, Stone Mountain Safaris of St. Helen’s, Ore., Fejes Guide Services Ltd., Anchorage, Alaska, and Mabula Pro Safaris of Limpopo, South Africa.