Local farm hand charged with stealing $400K in grain

Mt. Vernon man accused of selling employers’ grain as his own

A Mount Vernon hired hand was arrested last month, accused of selling $400,000 of his employers’ grain as his own.
Merle Northrup, 46, was charged with grand theft on July 20 for hauling his employers’ grain to POET and CHS and selling it under his own name. Northrup was released later that day on $2,000 bail.
Northrup worked as a hired hand and hauled grain from a bin site to various grain elevators for David and Scott Estabrook of rural Letcher, but about five years ago, he allegedly began selling some of the truckloads in his name. He ultimately received checks totaling around $400,000.
After a recent delivery, Scott Estabrook received a phone call from POET Biorefining in Loomis, asking what he wanted them to do with his and Northrup’s loads of corn. Northrup had sold four loads that day, two under his own name and two under Estabrook’s.
The theft was reported later that day on July 18, after Estabrook collected his records from POET, discovering around $230,000 sold under Northrup’s name since 2012.
Northrup continued to haul grain until mid-morning July 20. He had hauled a couple of loads and was later scheduled to pick up a check from POET. Northrup then called his employer, stating he was done for the day and returned to his home in rural Mt. Vernon, where he was picked up by the Davison County Sheriff’s Department.
The Sheriff’s Office is still working on determining exactly how much grain was taken from each of David and Scott’s farms. Northrup was paid an hourly wage as a hired hand for the years he worked on the Estabrook farms.
Scott Estabrook says Northrup’s theft began small, but he had “ramped up” his efforts in recent years. He says at first the loss was within their margin of error, but he says it would have been soon when they’d have noticed the grain wasn’t in the bin.
“I thought I had grain in the bin, and that’s money that’s supposed to pay for my feed and fertilizer next year,” said Estabrook. He says they continue to go day by day, but are concerned about how they will continue next year. “It set me back 10 years,” he says.
Estabrook says his biggest concern is for their 12-year-old son, Isaac, who has autism. Costs associated with caring for their middle son are beyond average and Estabrook and his wife, Tonya, worry about providing for his needs in the long run.
Northrup is charged with grand theft valued between $100,000 and $500,000, which is a Class 3 felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a $30,000 fine.

NORTHRUP WAS taken into custody by the Davison County Sheriff’s Department July 20 and released on bail later that day.

NORTHRUP WAS taken into custody by the Davison County Sheriff’s Department July 20 and released on bail later that day.

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