BLISS • Bernard Saul, co-owner of Saul Farms in Bliss, admitted in federal court on Tuesday that he obtained $1.9 million in padded profits by illegally marketing conventional alfalfa seed as organic.
Between 2010 and fall 2015, Saul, under the name Bliss Seed, sold 7 million pounds of alfalfa seed labeled as organic. Yearly organic certification records Saul submitted to state agricultural officials showed his farm was capable of only growing 35,000 to 50,000 pounds of organic seed annually, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ray Patricco said. He bought conventional seed from four companies he then sold as higher cost organic.
Marketing the seed as organic allowed Saul to charge an average of $3.75 per pound. Saul Farms bought non-organic seed — which was treated with fungicides and pesticides — for an average of $2.50 a pound, according to an affidavit filed by FBI agent Drew McCandless, who investigated the case.
Saul, 58, pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Candy Dale in Boise to wire fraud and money laundering. He faces up to 20 years in prison on the fraud charge and 10 years for money laundering. Saul, who was not taken into custody, is scheduled to be sentenced June 7 before Senior District Judge Edward J. Lodge.
“He accepts responsibility for his actions and will do what he can to make things right with his customers,” Saul’s defense attorney, Dennis Benjamin, said.
The fraudulent seeds were sold to five companies: Albert Lea Seed of Albert Lea, Minn., King’s AgriSeeds of Ronks, Pa., Byron Seeds of Rockville, Ind., and Foundation Organic Seeds of Onalaska, Wisc.
Saul agreed as part of the restitution agreement to forfeit a $1 million property in Buhl that includes a residence and 438 acres of land. He also agreed to forfeit ownership in a 2002 Coachman Freelander recreational vehicle, a 2014 Polar Kraft boat, engine and trailer and a 2015 Dodge Ram pickup, all bought with proceeds of the fraudulent sales. He also agreed to turn over an uncashed $90,000 cashier’s check purchased last fall after he and his wife, Roza Saul, learned they were under investigation.
Roza Saul was also charged in the case. She pleaded guilty Monday to a misdemeanor count of selling a product that was misbranded. She is jointly liable for the $1.9 million in restitution for the companies victimized by the fraud. She faces up to a year in prison when she’s sentenced June 2 before U.S. Magistrate Ronald Bush.
Last month, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boise filed a forfeiture action against the Sauls. At the time, neither of them had been charged criminally but U.S. Attorney for Idaho Wendy Olson said they were under investigation.