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2 men indicted in California over theft of $4.8 million worth of canola

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A federal grand jury has returned a multiple-count indictment this month against Richard Best, 68, of Fresno, California, and Shawn Sawa, 46, formerly of Clovis, California, charging them with conspiracy and wire fraud. According to court documents, from 2015 through 2017, Best and Sawa are accused of stealing $4.8 million worth of canola used in cattle feed from international food processors. They then sold the canola for a windfall.

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Federal Department of Justice documents say that Best and Sawa carried out the scheme through Best’s now defunct train-to-truck transloading company, Richard Best Transfer Inc. (RBT). The victims sent hundreds of thousands of tons of their canola and other commodities for delivery to their customers. Sawa was the manager of one of the victim’s branch offices in Fresno and had a close relationship with Best.

Authorities say that Best and Sawa sold the stolen canola through an acquaintance in Texas who used to work in the livestock feed industry. The acquaintance is believed to have sold the stolen canola to farms and dairies and distributed the proceeds according to Best’s instructions. This included wire transfers to RBT, Best, and Sawa’s bank accounts, documents allege, and the account that Sawa used was allegedly opened in his spouse’s name to try to conceal the scheme.

Throughout the scheme, authorities say Best and Sawa caused RBT to send fraudulent inventory reports to the victims representing that RBT had certain amounts of their canola in-stock when, in fact, RBT had significantly lesser amounts. Whenever the victims began to make inquiries about missing canola, Best and Sawa allegedly told them it had been destroyed by bad weather (not stolen).

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Best and Sawa are accused of using the proceeds from the scheme to cover RBT’s operating expenses, purchase luxury homes and multiple vehicles, take trips, and hire private karate teachers, among other expenses.

If convicted, Best and Sawa face maximum statutory penalties of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each of the conspiracy and wire fraud counts.

This case is the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Barton is prosecuting the case. Any sentence, however, would be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables. 

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