Mark Franklin Broeg was sentenced to 26 months in prison on racketeering charges

by: KEVIN SPERL - According to Crook County District Attorney Daina Vitolins, Central Oregon's quality hay was the bait used by Mark Franklin Broeg to lure hay buyers into his scam.

A Clackamas County resident was sentenced in Crook County Circuit Court to 26 months in prison on racketeering charges stemming from a hay sales scam.

According to Crook County District Attorney Daina Vitolins, Mark Franklin Broeg, 57, formed a company, “Red Barn Hay Company,” for the sole purpose of defrauding customers.

“Broeg bought hay, and did not pay for it, and sold it to someone else, and kept the money,” said Vitolins. “He also sold hay, for which he was paid in advance, that he had no intention of delivering.”

Vitolins’ investigation into the case began more than two years ago, when two Crook County residents were defrauded by Broeg.

“There were other victims in Central Oregon as well,” explained Vitolins, “and Broeg was consistently selling Central Oregon orchardgrass hay without delivering it.”

Vitolins knew, that despite the financial loss experienced by local residents, more evidence of criminal activity was needed in order to achieve a significant conviction.

“If we had convicted him of theft in the first degree on behalf of the two county residents,” said Violins, “it would have resulted in presumptive probation only.”

Vitolins’ research led her to a history of illegal activity in Broeg’s past. He had been convicted, in the 1990s, of securities fraud, for which he served five years, and “Red Barn Hay Company” had defrauded hay buyers throughout Oregon and California.

“Broeg had also operated the same hay scam under the name of Green Acres Hay and was foreclosed on at Northwest Equine & Event Center in Boring, Ore.,” said Vitolins, adding that there were numerous Better Business Bureau complaints lodged against him as well.

It was this additional illegal activity that enabled Vitolins to bring Broeg to justice using the federal racketeering statute, commonly referred to as RICO. The statute states that any business or organization that is used as a criminal enterprise to illegally obtain money is treated as a federal offense.

“Broeg’s company certainly fell under this statute,” said Vitolins, “and this enabled us to use the entirety of Broeg’s criminal past in the prosecution of this case.”

It was the buyers’ love, and appreciation for, Central Oregon hay that Broeg’s illegal activities took advantage of.

“In this case, the victims all said, ‘We love Central Oregon hay and we trusted him because that is the way it is in this business,’” she said.

Prineville hay farmer, Wade Flegel, who cuts hay throughout Central Oregon and the Willamette Valley, agreed.

“The quality of Central Oregon hay is related to our climate,” said Flegel, “It always depends on weather, but if other areas get untimely spring rains, we can cut later here and produce a premium hay.”

Although not personally effected by any of the activities perpetrated by Broeg, Flegel said that the local farmer reputation is always hurt by those that are not credible.

“It boils down to our local law enforcement looking out for the farmers and ranchers when they find someone that is not credible,” he said.

It was that very diligence, on the part of local law enforcement, that resulted in the 26-month sentence and three-year probation handed down by the court.

Although Vitolins had sought a longer sentence, she feels a clear message was sent.

“Don’t come to Central Oregon and try to engage in these types of fraudulent activity,” she said. “A 26-month sentence for a property crime is remarkable.” Vitolins went on to say that the judge in the case, Crook County Circuit Judge Gary Williams, added the probationary period and ordered repayment of $40,000 in restitution and $12,000 in court costs.

If anyone is looking to buy hay, or anything else online, Vitolins offers this advice:

“Never pay in advance, unless you trust and have a relationship with the seller,” she said. “Set up escrow, so money changes hands only after the buyer receives the product, while assuring the seller that they will get their money.”

For Vitolins, appreciation from the hay buying and selling community continues to pour in.

“Just today, I got a call from three other people, thanking us for doing this,” she said late last week, “and one of them was an employee of Broeg’s that was never paid.”

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