The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

February 25, 2008

Three plead guilty in cattle, bank scandal

A businessman and two former bank officials pleaded guilty Monday in Beckley’s federal court to charges stemming from a Greenbrier County $4.2 million cattle and banking scandal.

A federal postal inspector testified that an investigation by State Police involving dirty dealings by cattle broker Kevin Scott O’Brien, of Ronceverte, also led to separate criminal charges being filed against former First National Bank of Ronceverte president and CEO Charles A. Henthorn and former First National Bank board director G. Thomas Garten.

Last month, O’Brien, 28, was charged in an information with one count of mail fraud, but the complaint also listed several instances of fraudulent business practices including “phantom herding” — selling the same cattle to multiple buyers — check kiting, bribing a bank official, and running pyramid or “Ponzi” schemes.

Prosecutor’s say O’Brien used sophisticated schemes to defrauded investors and businesses out of $4.2 million beginning in early 2005 while brokering cattle deals in West Virginia, Illinois, Texas, Virginia and Nebraska.

Monday’s testimony revealed O’Brien signed a plea agreement with prosecutors in May 2006 and then helped police gather evidence against Henthorn, 48, by wearing an undercover wire which secretly taped the bank president incriminating himself about taking bribes.

Prosecutors then used that evidence and more in persuading Henthorn to wear an undercover wire which recorded incriminating statements made by Garten.

There was no evidence that Garten wore an undercover wire during the federal investigation which also included FBI and FDIC officials. State Troopers Sgt. V.S. Deeds and W.A. Pendleton, who brought their investigation to federal prosecutors, were present for Monday’s hearing.

Last month, Henthorn was charged with accepting nearly $10,000 in bribes from O’Brien, and Garten was charged with aiding and abetting those bribes. Henthorn originally brokered his deal with prosecutors nine months ago and Garten signed a plea agreement last August, Forbes said.

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