Organic fertilizer fraud nets four 78-month terms

A federal judge sentenced a California man to 6 1/2 years in prison and ordered him to pay a $9 million judgment for defrauding the organic industry with synthetic fertilizer that he represented as certified for use in organic operations.

Judge Anthony Ishii ordered Kenneth Nelson, a 59-year-old Bakersfield resident, to begin serving four concurrent 78-month sentences on Jan. 24. Nelson is the former owner of Port Organic Products Ltd. and affiliated businesses, including AgroMar Inc., Sail On Ag Products Inc., Desert Organic Express Inc., Action Fertilizer, and Microbial Assisted Soil Health Inc.

In addition, Nelson owes restitution to victims, which will be determined later by the court. Nelson must serve three years' probation after his release from prison.

Nelson could have faced 20 years and fines up to $250,000 on each of four counts of mail fraud. He was originally charged with 28 counts, but in a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney's office in Fresno, Calif., he admitted to four counts.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kirk Sheriff, who prosecuted the case against Nelson, said it is his understanding that the federal system requires prisoners to serve 85% of their sentence before being eligible for early release.

In the plea agreement, Nelson admitted to making $9 million in profit on $40 million in sales of fertilizers including Agrolizer, Marizyme and Fishilizer from 2003 through 2009. The mail fraud charges stem from documents he sent to the Washington State Department of Agriculture and the Organic Materials Review Institute to have the fertilizers listed as acceptable for use in organic operations.

Nelson told the certifying organizations the fertilizers were made from materials such as fish meal and bird guano after he intentionally altered the formulas to include aqueous ammonia, ammonium sulfate, and urea.