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Grain payment defaults draw suit

By Jack Weatherly

This article was published August 21, 2014 at 2:37 a.m.

Farmers in southeast Arkansas have filed suit in Lee County Circuit Court seeking an undisclosed amount of money or return of their grain for which they contracted with Turner Merchandising Inc. to sell.

Turner Grain Merchandising and related firms in Brinkley have drawn the scrutiny of state officials for their default on payments to farmers across the Delta, but the filing on Monday is the first court action.

The complaint does not put a dollar value on the claims though widespread but unconfirmed reports have put the losses as high as tens of millions of dollars.

The default has been described as a threat to the economy of the Delta, which is heavily reliant on agriculture. A hearing on the matter by joint House and Senate committees will be at 10 a.m. Friday in Room A at the Multi-Agency Complex at the Capitol, according to the General Assembly's meeting and events calendar.

Farmers named in the lawsuit say they have either not been paid for their crops or have been issued hot checks.

Plaintiffs include four brothers in a family partnership -- Keith Wilkison, Roger Wilkison, Donnie Wilkison and David Wilkison -- who, with their father, Donald Wilkison, farm 15,000 acres in Monroe and Lee counties; plus Randle Foran, Lance Gray and Stanley Bartlett.

Defendants are Turner Grain Merchandising, Neauman Coleman & Co. LLC, Agribusiness Properties LLC and several others, all of which are interrelated.

On Aug. 14, agents of the U.S. Department of Agriculture temporarily shut down Agribusiness Properties, a grain warehouse, which in effect has curtailed activities at Turner Grain, which is a dealer. The license will be revoked if issues are not resolved by Sept. 14.

The lawsuit contends that "some or all" of the individual defendants are commodities brokers, though Turner Grain is not a brokerage. Turner Commodities Inc. is based in Dumas. The other firms are in Brinkley.

The complaint says that as brokers they are bonded and insured under the Commodities Futures Trading Act.

Individual defendants are Neauman Coleman, Jason Coleman, Dale Bartlett and Gerald Lloyd. Other businesses that have been sued are Ivory Rice, Neauman Coleman and Co., Brinkley Truck Brokerage, Agri-Petroleum Sales, LJTC LLC and Turner North LLC.

The plaintiffs are seeking liens on any grains contracted or delivered or sold. Attorneys for the plaintiffs, Louis Etoch of Helena and David A. Hodges of Little Rock, declined to comment on the case.

Attempts to contact the defendants for comment were unsuccessful.

Business on 08/21/2014

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Nodmcm says... August 21, 2014 at 10:06 a.m.

Situations like this tell us a lot about free market economics. Adam Smith, the "founder" of free market idealism, believed that an "invisible hand" would keep the market functioning. However, when players in the system, such as Turner Grain Merchandising and Neuman Coleman LLC, go belly-up, then there is a fight to see who will survive. Instead of the fight being in the market, this fight will be in courtrooms. Of course, there is sadly probably not much to fight for, except to see how many years in prison Mr. Turner and Mr. Coleman receive after the Wilkinsons (who together own 15,000 acres of prime cropland) get through with them. You just have to know those farmers are hopping mad, and I bet they have a friend or three in the legislature and in some courthouses in East Arkansas, a clannish place if ever there was one. Oh well, Bernie Madoff had a good life before he began his very long stretch in the federal pen, and likely these gentlemen lived well until the end. So did that fellow in Fayetteville, Brandon Barber, who built the big building and is now going off to the federal pen. The "free market" leads people in all sorts of directions. Old Adam Smith, what a joker!

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