United States Attorney Brandon B. Brown announced that William Ross Hickman, 48, of Arcadia, Louisiana, and Brian K. Whiteman, 47, of Haughton, Louisiana, have each pleaded guilty to a Bill of Information charging them with conspiracy to commit fraud against the United States. United States District Judge Elizabeth E. Foote presided over the hearing.
According to evidence presented to the court, Hickman and Whiteman participated in a scheme to defraud which began prior to 2018 and involved Raeford Farms of Louisiana, LLC (Raeford Farms), where Hickman was employed as the Sales Manager and Whiteman was as the Assistant Sales Manager of their Arcadia production plant. Raeford Farms sells various products to include fresh and frozen chicken, and chicken frames. A chicken frame is the core of the chicken that remains after processing the breasts, thighs, wings, and legs. Hickman negotiated the sale of these chicken products seeking the highest possible return when selling them.
While employed at Raeford Farms, Hickman developed a scheme to fraudulently divert business from Raeford Farms by using Group 7792 as an intermediary to purchase chicken frames from Raeford Farms. Hickman used his position as Sales Manager to provide favorable sales terms to other entities to the detriment of Raeford Farms. Hickman had a pre-arranged agreement with an unnamed individual and his corporation to sell the chicken frames to Heritage Food Sales (Heritage), which was another company controlled by Hickman. Heritage paid Group 7792 a guaranteed return for each transaction but never took possession of the chicken frames or added anything of value to the transaction. Hickman would then sell the same chicken frames to a poultry wholesaler in Chattanooga, TN for profit.
To further the scheme to defraud, Hickman and others acting in concert with him, sent invoices by email from Arcadia, Louisiana, through interstate commerce, for Heritage to receive payment for the chicken frames. Hickman and Whiteman conspired together to conceal the involvement of Heritage from Raeford Farms in these chicken frame transactions. As Assistant Sales Manager for Raeford Farms, Whiteman was responsible for tracking inventory and the details regarding all shipments. Whiteman provided this type of information to Hickman to further the conspiracy to defraud in order to get a higher price for chicken frame loads sold by Heritage. In exchange for his participation in the conspiracy to defraud, Whiteman understood and agreed with Hickman that Heritage would pay him through his own business entity, All Trade Enterprise, LLC (All Trade). Hickman would pay Whiteman a monthly commission through All Trade and occasionally to him personally. The transactions conducted during the time period of this investigation resulted in an approximate loss of $2,183,950 to Raeford Farms.
Hickman and Whiteman each face up to 5 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of up to $250,000. Sentencing has been set for July 12, 2023 at 9:30.
The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and prosecuted by Alexander C. Van Hook, Special Counsel to the U.S. Attorney and Assistant U.S. Attorney Tennille M. Gilreath.