SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Farmers living in the Corsica area lost $24 million dollars in a cattle Ponzi scheme. The man behind the scam, Robert Blom, was sentenced in federal court today on two charges: wire fraud and money laundering. As part of a plea bargain, 30 other counts were dropped.
This case is about 30,000 fake cows and the loss of $24 million dollars by more than 50 Douglas County farmers. But what it really comes down to is a deep betrayal that has rocked the close-knit community of Corsica.
Norman and Bonnie DeLange are lifelong friends of the Blom family. They also did business with Blom, buying interest in cattle that Blom sold over and over again without their knowledge.
Kennecke: How many years had you guys been friends?
Norman DeLange: All our life. We lived close to them, yep. Their folks were within five miles of us growing up.
Kennecke: What does it feel like to be betrayed by a lifelong friend?
DeLange: It was hard. You couldn’t believe it.
In federal court, Blom apologized to his victim:
“I’ve hurt so many people including family and friends, close friends. I hurt for them. I lost a lot of trust, which is understandable. I’m trying to do the right thing. I would do anything to give back to these people… I’m so sorry. I admit what I’ve done and accept responsibility.”ROBERT BLOM’S APOLOGY IN FEDERAL COURT
Kennecke: What about his apology in court, was that enough for you?
VandenHoek: No, no, I think it’s meaningless. It’s sad. It’s a show It’s been a show since day one. When he can sit across from you and look you in eye and lie and steal from you; that show in court, just a show.
Blom asked the judge for mercy. His defense painted a picture of a stressed-out farmer who was only trying to save his family farm. Dozens of people wrote letters to the court on his behalf, including Shirley Dittman.
Kennecke: Shirley you spoke out in support of Bob, why is that?
Shirley Dittman: Because we knew him and people make mistakes, yes. I believe he should have been punished some, but he was a good guy and worked hard.
However, Judge Karen Schreier, told Blom that she grew up on a farm and her father had to sell it during the 80’s farm crisis, but he never tried to find a dishonest way out from under. She also said that Blom should have known what he was doing was wrong, after facing charges in 1997 for getting a bank loan after lying about cattle he didn’t own. He received probation at the time. This time, Blom will spend seven-and-a-half years in federal prison.
Kennecke: Are seven-and-a-half years enough?
Mike VandenHoek: I‘ve got mixed feelings on that. The whole restitution thing, I don’t understand. How does a guy pay restitution when he’s in jail? On the other hand, 7.5 years for millions of dollars? It’s another slap on the wrist.”
Over and over again, Blom’s victims testified that their huge financial losses will impact their families for generations to come.
“When it hurts us, it hurts our kids… I’m sorry,” DeLange said, overcome with emotion.
While the members of VandenHoek’s family lost millions altogether, he personally is out nearly $400,000.
VandenHoek: “I’m going to be 63 and to lose $380,000, kind of takes a bite into the retirement pretty harshly.
Kennecke: And is this about the money or about the trust?
Judge Schreier ordered that Blom begin $500-dollar monthly restitution payments after his release from prison.
The least amount of money a farmer lost in the scheme was $74,000. Many lost a million dollars or more, and one farmer is owed nearly $4 million.
Civil lawsuits filed by the farmers against Blom are still ongoing.