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SD farm worker sentenced for stealing $400K worth of grain

Emergency personnel were on the scene May 3 when the school bus crashed north of Bemidji, Minn. (Submitted photo)
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MITCHELL, S.D. -- A Mount Vernon man showed no emotion during court when he was sentenced Tuesday to five years in prison for stealing $400,000 from a local farming family.

Merle Northrup, 48, was employed by farmers David and Scott Estabrook in the Mount Vernon area. Between 2012 and 2016, Northrup transported and sold several loads of corn and soybeans to Cenex Harvest States and POET Biorefining plants in the area. He sold the grain under his own name, received payment and did not give any of the money to the Estabrooks.

In total, Northrup took $411,220.68. Judge Chris Giles sentenced Northrup to 15 years in prison but suspended 10 years on the condition he repay the full amount, repay court appointed attorney fees and court costs.

Prior to sentencing, held at the Davison County Public Safety Center in Mitchell, Davison County State's Attorney Jim Miskimins said he'd let the presentence investigation report speak for itself, including victim impact statements from David and Scott Estabrook, as well as Northrup's statements.

Northrup's attorney, Theresa Maule Rossow, presented recommendation letters to the court, including one from his employer stating Northrup "does an amazing job." Rossow requested no prison time, stating Northrup couldn't effectively pay restitution from the penitentiary and that he supports his children.


"He absolutely needs to keep his job to pay restitution," Rossow said.

Northrup spoke briefly only to address the court for the ability to arrange any jail time to accommodate traveling for his job.

"The court's concern is that you're not showing any remorse and that you didn't accept responsibility by taking a no contest plea," said Judge Chris Giles. "There's a serious, serious magnitude with the amount of money and what you've done to another family. I don't get the sense that you're sorry about that."

Despite Northrup and Rossow's requests, Giles said justice would not be served if he did not impose prison time.

"I have to balance trying to get money from you to them, but also trying to determine the appropriate punishment for the magnitude of the offense you pleaded no contest to," Giles said. "The only way I see an appropriate sentence is sentencing you to the state penitentiary."

Northrup was immediately remanded to the custody of the sheriff. Giles denied Rossow's request to allow him time to get his affairs in order.

"He should have had that done by today," Giles said. "To me, that undercuts the magnitude of the sentence if I give him additional time."

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