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Jason T. Coleman, 40, a co-founder of a Brinkley grain company that went bankrupt in 2014 while owing farmers millions of dollars, was found dead Tuesday.

Coleman of Greenbrier was found hanged in a barn south of Heber Springs by a friend of the family, Cleburne County Coroner Warren Olmstead said Thursday. Olmstead said Coleman's death is being investigated as a suicide and that his body had been sent to the state medical examiner's office.

Coleman and Dale C. Bartlett, 49, of Marvell, founded Turner Grain Merchandising Inc. in 2002 to buy and sell grain, eventually adding a grain elevator, bins and a trucking company to their operations. The company was closed in August 2014 after inspectors with the U.S. Department of Agriculture found no grain in bins, contrary to certifications by Turner.

Turner Grain Merchandising filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, listing some $47 million in debts and about $14 million in assets, although the assets likely were overstated, according to filings by bankruptcy trustees involved in the case. Farmers alone have filed claims seeking more than $40 million.

Many farmers were never paid, or were paid with checks returned for insufficient funds. In some cases, Turner allegedly was owed money by other grain buyers at the time it closed. Many of those disputes are still tied up in lawsuits in state and federal courts.

Turner reported gross sales of $235 million in 2014, according to bankruptcy filings.

In a March 2017 deposition as part of a lawsuit filed in Lonoke County by farmers who were owed money, Coleman said he was physically and mentally ill during Turner Grain's final three months of operation and was seldom in the office. He said in that deposition he had been suffering from depression, was suicidal and had received treatment at mental-health facilities in Little Rock and Tulsa during that time.

Agents with the FBI talked with Coleman and Bartlett, as well as farmers owed money, but no federal charges have been filed.

Local prosecutors in July 2017 filed felony hot-check charges against the two, just days before the expiration of the state's three-year statute of limitations on such charges. Both pleaded innocent. After two postponements last year -- in July and in November -- trial most recently was set for March 11 in Monroe County Circuit Court in Clarendon.

Coleman moved to Greenbrier shortly after Turner Grain was closed.

Some $3.6 million so far has been recovered in about three dozen clawback lawsuits filed by Turner's bankruptcy trustee against farmers and other entities that received payments within certain time periods of the company's bankruptcy filing.

Business on 01/11/2019

Print Headline: Founder of bankrupt Arkansas grain firm found dead in barn


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