Arrest made over hay scam

Published 7:00 pm Sunday, December 4, 2011

    A Copiah County man seemingly disguised as a goodSamaritan during the drought that crippled many Texas farmers andranchers in the late summer and early fall months has been arrestedover several alleged hay scams.


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    James Darian Hoffman, 34, of Wesson, turned himself into the CopiahCounty Sheriff’s Department on Wednesday after learning of awarrant for his arrest, said Deputy Milton Twiner, chiefinvestigator of the department.

    Hoffman was charged with four different counts of false pretenses,or fraud. If convicted, he faces a prison sentence of up to 40years in Mississippi, a maximum of 10 years for each count, Twinersaid.

    “He was talking back and forth with farmers in Texas who needed haybecause of the drought,” Twiner said. “He was selling invisiblehay. They would wire him money and the hay would never come.”

    According to Twiner, the scams were carried out in September andOctober. He wasn’t certain, but said Hoffman may possibly facecharges in Texas as well.

    “He did not speak with us (when he turned himself in),” Twinersaid. “He spoke through an attorney.”

    Twiner said the attorney present when Hoffman gave himself up isnot representing him any further and declined to give a name.

    Many Mississippi farmers tried to do what they could to helpfarmers and ranchers in Texas who faced serious hay shortages. Onesuch farmer was John Butler Smith, also of Copiah County, whojoined with Hoffman in efforts to lend a hand.

    “You just have to be leery of people who you know nothing about,”Smith said of Hoffman’s arrest. “Myself, I thought he was a goodman, but I was fooled. I hope he’ll be prosecuted to the fullextent of the law.”

    Twiner did not disclose the total amount of money Hoffman allegedlyscammed from the Texas farmers, but said each occurrence was “inthe several thousands.”

    An article published in the Navasota (Texas) Examiner on Thursdayreported rancher Laramie Wheaton, of Iola, Tex., alerted the GrimesCounty Sheriff’s Department in Texas in October after he did notreceive hay purportedly bought from Hoffman.

    The Grimes County authorities initiating the investigation couldnot be reached for comment Friday.

    The article goes on to say Grimes County investigators contactedthe Mississippi Department of Livestock and Agriculture TheftBureau to open an investigation.

    Twiner said Investigator Lee Barkdull is heading up the case forthe bureau. Barkdull also could not be reached for comment Friday.Twiner said Barkdull was scheduled to meet with the U.S. Attorney’sOffice about the investigation.

    Twiner said Hoffman posted bond that was set at $50,000 and wasreleased from the Copiah County Jail soon after he was booked. Hesaid Hoffman will face a grand jury in January 2012.

    Twiner expressed displeasure with people who price-gouge to takeadvantage of others.

    “The governor over there (Texas Gov. Rick Perry) declared a stateof emergency (during the drought),” he said. “That’s supposed toeliminate price gouging for things like this. We all feel likethere are some more victims out there who might come forward.”