February 5, 2014

A former West Central Cooperative sales manager - a gambling addict who said he took more than $479,000 of bribes from a Sac County farmer in exchange for steep discounts on crop seed and other products - was sentenced Tuesday to 51 months in a federal prison for wire fraud, according to court records.

Chad Hartzler, 46, of Ames, pleaded guilty to the fraud charge in October. He will be incarcerated at a minimum-security prison in Yankton, S.D., and must pay $2.5 million restitution, the records show.

Hartzler has said he took nearly 40 bribes over the course of five years from farmer Bill Wollesen, of Lake View, according to state and federal court records. Hartzler used most of the money to bet on sports games, according to court records.

Wollesen has denied that his payments to Hartzler were bribes and has not been charged with a crime.

But both men are defendants in a lawsuit by Westco Agronomy - a subsidiary of West Centeral - that seeks unspecified compensation for the alleged bribes-for-discounts scheme. The lawsuit is set for trial in July in Story County.

Hartzler confessed to the scheme in 2011, 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.

The alleged bribes continued, and Hartzler said he later gave discounts to Wollesen of up to 37 percent on seed corn and 25 percent on fertilizer, and that Wollesen sold some of the seed corn - without the proper license from seed giant Monsanto - to other area farmers for a profit.

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