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Kutak Rock Successfully Defends Farmer Against Bribery Allegations

News | September 2, 2014

Kutak Rock attorneys John Passarelli and Samuel Blatnick recently represented William S. Wollesen in the highly scrutinized jury trial against Westco Agronomy Co. LLC. Westco alleged that Wollesen, a farmer of Lake View, Iowa, paid Westco’s former director of seed and chemicals, Chad Hartzler, bribes of nearly $500,000 in exchange for discounted seedcorn and other agronomy products. Westco claimed that Wollesen owed the company more than $6 million, as well as punitive damages and its fees and costs. On August 7, 2014, Kutak Rock received a complete defense verdict in favor of Wollesen, and an award of more than $576,000 in favor of Wollesen and his farming operation for their counterclaims.

“We are very pleased to have succeeded in such a trying case and overcome the many obstacles our client faced,” said Passarelli, a partner in the Omaha office of Kutak Rock. “As West Central invested vast resources into this case, this is an important, yet fair, win for the Wollesen family,” added Blatnick, an of counsel attorney in Kutak Rock’s Kansas City office.

The case began in 2011, when Hartzler resigned from West Central and admitted to stealing from the company and confessed to receiving bribes from Wollesen for more than five years. Hartzler claimed the firm’s client was aware of the bribes, however, Wollesen stated he was purchasing the products from the sales representative under contract with West Central and directly from Hartzler, who represented he had product to sell for his own benefit. In October 2013, Hartzler was sentenced to 51 months of prison for wire fraud.

Kutak Rock attorneys argued that Hartzler was omitting the truth and took initiative to prevent knowledge of his actions from the firm’s client, and also proved that Wollesen had a history of purchasing products directly from salespeople. The jury agreed that Wollesen was unaware the payments were bribes. Wollesen was awarded more than $576,000 as a result of fraudulent misrepresentations and broken contracts for pre-paid products that were not delivered once Hartzler left Westco.

Kutak Rock associate attorney Meredith Webster and paralegal LeeAnn Parmenter of the Kansas City office also were instrumental in achieving the successful outcome of the trial. In addition, significant support was provided by legal secretaries Shari Mullenax, Patricia Harris, Michia Asher and Julie Rowell.