Last week, Curtis Harold DeBerry, owner of the Texas-based Progreso Produce Company, was arrested and accused of cheating investors, business partners and banks out of millions of dollars over the past few years. He now faces up to 30 years in prison.
According to the criminal complaint, DeBerry hid assets by transferring money to his children, and diverted assets meant for creditors to pay for his own luxury items (including a yacht). One of the more egregious allegations in the complaint is that he bilked a fruit wholesaler out of over $8 million.
We regularly come across people that are hiding assets in their family members’ names or in secret companies. We recently found that a debtor had placed all of his North Carolina companies in his nephew’s name, and then used those companies to buy up loads of property. We always think outside of the box when we’re doing an asset search. We’re well equipped to look for assets in the names of people close to the debtor using our proprietary commercial databases and by scouring the public record.
On the flip side, in many cases, our clients would not have needed an asset search if they’d done some more diligence prior to entering into the bad business deal. This looks to be the situation here with the fruit wholesaler. Sure, it costs money to do diligence, but a few thousand dollars to save $8 million seems more than worth it.
In this case, Fruit wholesaler, Eclipse Berry Farms, LLC, and Progreso entered an agreement to grow and sell strawberries together. According to a civil complaint, to induce Eclipse to sign the agreement, Progreso showed Eclipse 42 leases with strawberry growers in Zamora, Mexico where the strawberries for the joint venture were to be harvested. Eclipse then sent over $8 million to Progreso for growing, producing and packaging the strawberries.
According to the complaint, after the contract had been signed and money advanced, Eclipse sent a quality control person to Mexico to actually take a look at the strawberry harvesting land and operations. It was then that Eclipse learned that Progreso did not have any leases with strawberry growers in Mexico and had instead been haggling with local strawberry growers to buy strawberries at a very low price. Ultimately, Progreso used about $2 million of Eclipse’s funds to purchase strawberries in Mexico, but kept the balance of the $8 million for itself.
Though it was prudent for Eclipse to eventually send a quality control person to Mexico to check on the strawberries, it would have been wiser to send someone down prior to investing $8 million in the first place. A few phone calls to the counterparties on the strawberry leases might have even been enough to put Eclipse on notice of Progreso’s alleged fraud. Had they discovered that Progreso did not have any leased strawberry land, they would have never advanced the money, and wouldn’t now be stuck duking it out with other creditors to get pennies on their dollars back from Progreso.