By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN The investigation into $160,000 worth of grain missing from the Winsted Farmers Elevator, which began in May, still continues, Winsted Police Chief Mike Henrich told the city council at its Tuesday meeting.
“We are far from done, but I do see light where I am sitting,” Henrich said.
For Henrich, seeing the possible end to the investigation came when the Minnesota Department of Commerce stepped in.
“The Department of Commerce has become involved and that is such a relief,” Henrich said. “Not only to me but should be to everyone that has been involved in this because they come with forensic accountants. They have people that do nothing but go through all of the bank records and figure out where the money came in and where it went out.”
Henrich described having his office filled with crates of financial information confiscated during three search warrants performed on the suspect’s businesses and household, and 10 more warrants on area banks.
Henrich said that he knew he was at the point where the city would have to hire a forensic accountant if it wanted the case to move forward. But it wasn’t necessary, because the the Department of Commerce took all of the financial records Henrich had in his office Dec. 5.
“They are in the process of going through this now, and being a state-involved agency, it will take weeks, and now, we have the holidays in there, too,” Henrich said.
He is estimating that by the middle of January, he will get an update on where the department is in the process.
One of the reasons Henrich was happy to have the state agency step in is because it has more connections which could lead to federal agencies like the FBI or the IRS getting involved, too.
“If it should become a federal case, it will guarantee this person will spend time in prison for what occurred,” Henrich said.
The breach of contract is not the whole puzzle, according to Henrich.
“I can tell you that there is a lot more involved in this, but my job is Winsted. It’s hard not going in other directions. That is all I can tell you,” Henrich said.
“The Department of Commerce is not going to have those bumps. I have a feeling there will be a lot more coming down the pipes,” Henrich said.
The investigation into the Winsted Farmers Elevator began early in the year when the Minnesota Department of Agriculture revoked the grain buyer’s license of the Winsted Farmers Elevator due to breach of contact.
There were 18 victim farmers in Wright, Carver, and McLeod counties who were out a total amount of grain valued at $160,000 (Henrich called it a rough dollar estimate).
Several farmers were able to get their money because the “company had a bond on their grain,” Henrich said. If they sold it and the money wasn’t there, the bond covered it.
“But there wasn’t any kind of bond for stored grain, and those farmers are going through the legal process now to get their money back,” Henrich said.
On July 27, Sunil Sapatnekar, a major shareholder in the Winsted Farmers Elevator was arrested on felony theft related to the Winsted Farmers Elevator, but released the next day.
According to Henrich, he was released because of the amount of information that needed to be processed before a formal complaint could be issued.
The Winsted Police Department has been assisted by Pat Barry, an investigator whose time has been donated by the Carver County Sheriff’s Office. He has worked many, many hours with Henrich on this case.
Both Mayor Steve Stotko and City Administrator Brad Martens praised Henrich for his efforts on the investigation.
Martens said Henrich has saved the city of Winsted thousands of dollars by finding the right people to help him with the case.