Hillsborough farm owners to plead guilty to fraud

TAMPA — The owners of two prominent Hillsborough County strawberry and pepper farms have agreed to plead guilty to more than $1-million in crop insurance fraud and lying on income tax returns, according to federal court records filed Thursday.

Goodson Farms owner Janet Goodson and D & K Farms owners Darryl Williams and William Keith Williams each face up to three years in prison. Both companies face maximum fines of $500,000.

Gary Trombley, an attorney for Goodson and her company, said his clients' plea agreement is the result of more than three years of cooperation with the U.S. Attorney's Office.

"We believe the agreement is something that's fair to both sides and will bring closure to something that has been going on for a while," Trombley said. "This will put this matter behind us."

Court records show that between March 2001 and September 2004, Goodson Farms, which operates out of Balm, lied about damaged crops to obtain nearly $1.1-million in federal crop insurance payments. The company had harvested crops it claimed to be damaged and sold them for profit, prosecutors said.

Janet Goodson, president of Goodson Farms, has agreed to plead guilty to filing a false tax return in 2004. Court records show she failed to report cash sales of peppers made to produce buyers and at small roadside stands at the edge of the farm.

Court documents also name the estate of Donn Goodson, who ran the farm with his wife Janet until he died in a helicopter crash behind his home in 2003.

D & K Farms, which operates out of Plant City, filed false insurance claims for strawberries and peppers between July 2001 and June 2003, prosecutors said. That helped the company fraudulently obtain more than $400,000 in federal crop insurance payments.

The Williams brothers have agreed to plead guilty to filing false tax returns in 2004. David Weisbrod, attorney for D & K Farms president Darryl Williams and the company, declined to comment.

According to Darryl Williams' plea agreement, he reported his taxable income for 2004 as $38,590 when it actually was about $94,283. An IRS investigator discovered that Darryl Williams failed to report more than $200,000 in income over a four-year period, the plea said.

For his 2004 taxable income, William Williams reported $29,829, when it actually was about $89,699, according to his plea agreement. Like his brother, William Williams also failed to report more than $200,000 in income over a four-year period, court records show.

Timothy Fitzgerald, William Williams' attorney, declined to comment.

The Goodson family has farmed in the Balm and Wimauma community for more than 25 years. Trombley, the company's attorney, said he doesn't expect the criminal case to change that. "Goodson Farms is a very well-established farm in the city and in the marketplace, and this agreement will have no effect or impact," Trombley said. "This is something we are pleased to put to bed."

Sentencing dates have not been set.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this story. Kevin Graham can be reached at kgraham@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3433.

Hillsborough farm owners to plead guilty to fraud 10/30/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 3, 2008 6:40pm]

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