The Nebraska Public Service Commission has levied a huge fine against a South Dakota grain dealer that did business in the state without a license.
The order approved by the PSC at its Tuesday meeting says Banghart Properties LLC of Gettysburg, South Dakota, must pay a fine of $290,000 for operating without a license and failing to properly document grain purchases.
PSC spokeswoman Deb Collins said the fine is the “largest in recent memory” handed down by the commission.
According to a complaint filed in October, the company, which also used the name Fearless Grain Marketing, operated for months in the state without a license and made numerous deals with farmers.
The complaint said that owner Jan Banghart acknowledged that she started operating before inquiring about licensing requirements and then continued to operate after being told she needed to cease doing so until she obtained a license.
The PSC held a hearing on the complaint in January, and staff at that time had recommended a fine as high as $870,000, which represented the maximum $10,000 penalty for 87 separate violations that were alleged, which included both the unlicensed purchases and the failure to document them.
The commission decided to reduce the amount to $290,000, which would reflect a $10,000 fine for each of the 29 unlicensed transactions that were documented in the complaint, although it was acknowledged that Banghart’s business records showed another 21 unlicensed transactions.
“This company’s flagrant violation of Nebraska law along with its unwillingness to comply led to the conclusion that this civil penalty is warranted,” Commission Chair Dan Watermeier said in a statement.
Banghart has 30 days to either pay the fine or appeal it.
Robert Konrad, an attorney representing the Banghart, told agricultural publication AgWeek that the company is disappointed in the ruling and is considering an appeal.
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