Tacker biofuels fraud trial opens in Aberdeen

By Patsy Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal

ABERDEEN – A U.S. Department of Agriculture official in charge of supervising biofuels programs said Monday that his only communications about a Nettleton plant were with its Tennessee attorney.
Rick Mashek, chief of the USDA’s financial review branch in Kansas City, Mo., said that while a program application appears to be signed by William T. “Tommy” Tacker, he couldn’t say if it were Tacker’s signature or his then lawyer-partner H. Max Speight of Martin, Tenn.
Mashek led off testimony in the first day of the government’s case against Tacker, 56, of Okolona. He is accused of 10 counts of conspiracy, fraud and wrongful profiting through more than $3 million in federal biofuels program subsidies through the USDA.
The trial could go late into the week. A 12-member jury, with two alternates, was selected Monday morning to consider Tacker’s innocence or guilt. He faces up to 50 years in prison and $2.5 million in fines, if convicted on all charges.
In his opening statement to the jury, Assistant U.S. Attorney Clay Dabbs said evidence will show Tacker’s company, Biodiesel of Mississippi Inc., was out of money in 2004, “so he cheated the federal government out of $2.8 million.”
Tacker was president and majority owner of BMI in Nettleton. Speight was the company’s secretary and minority owner. Their business aimed to make biodiesel fuel from soybean oil.
USDA’s subsidy program paid biofuels producers for quarterly production increases.
Earlier this month, Speight pleaded guilty to one count of the 2009 indictment. He is expected to testify later this week.
“Mr. Speight will say Tommy Tacker knew what was going on,” Dabbs told the jury.
But defense counsel Robert “Chip” Davis of Tupelo insisted Speight was the only person who handled the subsidy paperwork.
“I think the evidence will show that Max Speight did it all by himself,” Davis said to the jury of eight women and four men. Both alternatives are women.
Also testifying was Steve Becker, a USDA warehouse examiner, who conducted an audit of BMI’s operation to verify Fiscal Year 2004 production under the subsidy program. He said his first call was to Tacker, who told him to talk to Speight to set up a time for the audit. He also reported working with records on purchases of soybean oil, the plant’s raw material.
Becker noticed an anomaly in truck fill-up records that showed empty vehicles weighing more than they did after taking on a load.
“Would a person with technical knowledge make such a silly mistake,” Davis asked him.
“He shouldn’t,” Becker replied.

Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or patsy.brumfield@djournal.com.