December 27, 2013

A judge is set to decide the prison sentence on Feb. 4 for the former West Central Cooperative sales manager who pleaded guilty in October to a wire fraud charge for taking more than $479,000 worth of bribes from a Sac County farmer.

Chad Hartzler, 46, of Ames, faces more than four years in federal prison as part of a plea deal with prosecutors. Hartzler has said that he took the bribes over the course of five years from farmer Bill Wollesen, of Lake View, in exchange for steep discounts on crop seed and other products.

Hartzler was a gambling addict who used the money to bet on sports games, court records show.

Wollesen has denied he bribed Hartzler.

Hartzler confessed to the scheme to West Central officials in 2011 as it became more difficult for him to conceal it from cooperative's auditors in Ralston, court records show. He allegedly admitted to a West Central attorney that Wollesen first offered him $2,000 cash to get a $6,000 discount on soybean seed in the spring of 2005. Wollesen allegedly made the offer after Hartzler told him about his gambling debts.

Most of the alleged bribes were paid by check, which led to the federal wire-fraud charge. Prosecutors said the money crossed state lines - making it a federal crime - because the deposited checks were processed electronically through a Federal Reserve office in Chicago.

Wollesen has not been criminally charged, but both men are defendants in a West Central lawsuit that seeks unspecified compensation for the scheme. The lawsuit is set for a July trial in Story County.