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UPDATED: C.H.Robinson faces billion dollar fraud lawsuit

A group of farmers have filed a $1.1 billion class-action lawsuit against C.H. Robinson, BB #:100586 Eden Prairie, MN, claiming the company illegally overcharged farmers.

The suit was filed in mid-January in U.S. District Court in Minnesota and alleges Robinson and its Robinson Fresh subsidiary practiced “freight topping,” or regularly overcharging freight costs, which would be in violation of the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act.

The lawsuit also alleges neither CHR Worldwide nor Robinson Fresh holds a PACA license. A search on the PACA database shows CH Robinson Company holds an active license No.20001042.

C.H.Robinson released the following statement regarding the lawsuit:

C.H. Robinson usually doesn’t comment on pending litigation; however, we feel it is important to share our views on this. First, we are proud of our long-standing relationships with growers throughout the world. The complaint was designed to capture media attention, and it contains an enormous amount of self-serving falsehoods as well as blatant mischaracterizations and fabrications about our company, teams and the actual agreements signed by the growers themselves.

It is important to note that the lawsuit has not been certified as a class action at this time, and C.H. Robinson will oppose any attempt to certify it as such. We deny any and all allegations of wrongdoing and look forward to vigorously defending our actions, as well as filing legitimate counterclaims against the growers.

C.H. Robinson loaned several of the growers listed in the complaint money to finance their businesses. Now that the money is due to be repaid, these growers are using this complaint to avoid paying their debts. C.H. Robinson will assert its right to collect the significant amounts it is owed by the growers.

C.H. Robinson always complies with federal statutes and state regulations; the company did not violate any express or implied duties to the growers. In fact, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (PACA) division conducted an onsite, seven day investigation into the allegations contained in the complaint; this is standard protocol in instances like this. C.H. Robinson cooperated and supported their thorough investigation and at no time during or after the investigation, did the USDA PACA division advise of any irregularities or take any disciplinary actions against C.H. Robinson as a result of their investigation.

“We are proud of the work we do with our teams, growers, and customers throughout the world, and we look forward to putting this entirely meritless complaint behind us,” said Michael Castagnetto, President of Robinson Fresh, a division of C.H. Robinson.

The farmers listed as plaintiffs:
-Moore Family Farms, Dalhart, TX
-JTJ Farms, Dalhart, TX
-Rentz Family Farms, Brinson, GA
-MEK Farms, Lake Park, GA
-Bowles Farming Company, Los Banos, CA
-Agropecuario Los Americanos S.A. de R.L. de C.V., Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico
-Phil Sandifer & Sons Farms, Blackwell, SC
-JMB Farm Vincennes, IN
-Powe Farms Management, Cairo, GA
-CA Comerical, S.A.C., Lima, Peru
-Global Fresh S.A.C., Lima, Peru
-Pepas Tropicales, S.A.C. Lima, Peru

The farmers’ attorney, Craig Stokes, says documents will show that Robinson charged additional fees that were not disclosed in contracts with growers.

“The law says if you’re a grower’s agent, you make a profit on commission. You don’t make money on expenses,” Stokes said February 11. “We have examples of upcharges on freight of more than $1000. That’s a clear violation of PACA.”

He said while Robinson claims this lawsuit was filed in order for growers to avoid paying back loans, he knows of only one grower who owes Robinson money from a loan.

Greg Johnson is Director of Media Development for Blue Book Services