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Nut scheme results in bank fraud conviction

POSTED July 26, 2011 10:20 p.m.

A Hughson man accused of taking part in a scheme to defraud local almond growers and processors, has been convicted of bank fraud.

Jason M. Espinola, 30, pled guilty Thursday in federal court to the charge of bank fraud and is scheduled for sentencing Dec. 16.

According to the plea agreement, Espinola and various co-defendants sold stolen almonds to a nut processing company under the fictitious business name “Southfork Ranch” between August 2000 and February 2002. Espinola and a co-defendant told the nut processing company that Southfork Ranch was owned by several almond growers including Espinola.

In fact, the defendants never grew or had any title or right to the almonds that were sold under the name of Southfork Ranch, and the other purported owners of Southfork Ranch were either fictitious or in one case was an assumed identity used without the individual’s knowledge or permission, said Department of Justice spokesperson Lauren Horwood.

In total, the nut processor paid approximately $159,076 to the purported Southfork payees. Espinola admitted that he cashed some of the payment checks with forged endorsements at various banks.

Co-defendant Randal Burtis pleaded guilty on June 24, to conspiring to commit mail fraud and bank fraud in connection with the broader scheme that defrauded a number of almond growers and nut processors of approximately $3.5 million between 2000 and 2007. Burtis is also scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 16. Two remaining co-defendants are currently set for trial on Oct. 31.

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