Ex-Countrymark CEO clamors for conviction reversal

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David Heath Swanson, the former CountryMark CEO convicted of stealing $2.7 million from the Indianapolis-based agricultural cooperative in the 1990s, is back in court trying to get his prison time reduced.

Last week, Swanson was transported from federal prison in Duluth, Minn., to appear for an evidentiary hearing before U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker in Indianapolis.

The March 17 hearing took place almost eight years to the day after Barker sentenced Swanson to 15 years in prison on 19 counts of money laundering, tax evasion and wire fraud.

Prosecutors had successfully argued that Swanson developed an elaborate scheme to skim funds from his employer through mergers and acquisitions, including Countrymark’s partial acquisition in 1996 of Dalton, Ohio-based Buckeye Feed Mills.

The government said Swanson had established his own consulting firms that participated in the deals and into which he diverted money for his own use.
Just before his 2003 sentencing, Swanson fled to Seattle. He was apprehended weeks later and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Two years later, however, Swanson’s attorneys succeeded in getting his sentence reduced by 29 months. An appeals court found that the judge should have used different sentencing guidelines.

Since September 2008, Swanson, 68, has been trying to further whittle down his prison term, arguing that his original attorneys “rendered ineffective assistance of counsel."

“Their failures materially impaired my defense,” Swanson stated in his petition, which is seeking a conviction reversal or a resentencing.

Swanson stated in court filings in Indianapolis that he “committed no fraud” in the CountryMark acquisition of Buckeye Feed.

Barker made no rulings after the hearing but gave Swanson's team 10 more days to file more paperwork.

Swanson’s attorneys have been attempting to get the government to turn over  loan agreements and other evidence used against him.

A letter sent earlier this month on behalf of U.S. Attorney Joe Hogsett to Swanson’s current attorney, William Theis, of Chicago, states that the FBI could not find some of the papers sought by Swanson and that other documents had been destroyed in late 2003.

The government countered that Swanson already has copies of loan agreements and other documents he’s seeking.

Theis said he expects Swanson’s efforts for conviction reversal or resentencing will continue in the months ahead.

Swanson’s schemes allegedly caused CountryMark considerable financial distress that contributed to the sale of its seed and grain businesses.

CountryMark once employed about 1,800 but now has 400 employees in the Midwest. The company is focused almost entirely on oil exploration, refining and distribution. It has annual sales of about $900 million.


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