FRESNO, Calif. — A federal grand jury today returned a multi-count indictment against Richard Best, 68, of Fresno, and Shawn Sawa, 46, formerly of Clovis, charging them with conspiracy and electronic fraud.
According to court documents, from 2015 to 2017, Best and Sawa stole $4.8 million worth of canola used in cow feed from international food processors. They then sold the canola for a bargain.
Best and Sawa ran the program through Best’s now-defunct train-to-truck transshipment company, Richard Best Transfer Inc. (RBT). A transshipment company transfers goods from one mode of transport to another mode. The victims sent hundreds of thousands of tons of their canola and other products to RBT for delivery to their customers. Sawa was the manager of one of the victim’s Fresno branches and had a close relationship with Best.
Best and Sawa sold the stolen canola through an acquaintance in Texas who worked in the cattle feed industry. The acquaintance sold the stolen canola to farms and dairies and distributed the product according to Best’s instructions. This included wire transfers to the bank accounts of RBT, Best and Sawa. The account used by Sawa was opened in his wife’s name in an attempt to cover up the scheme.
Throughout the scheme, Best and Sawa tricked RBT into sending victims fraudulent inventory reports indicating that RBT had certain amounts of their canola in stock when, in fact, RBT had significantly lower amounts. Each time the victims began to inquire about the missing canola, Best and Sawa told them that it had been destroyed by bad weather when in fact it had been stolen.
Best and Sawa used proceeds from the program to cover RBT’s operating expenses, purchase luxury homes and several vehicles, travel, and hire private karate instructors, among other expenses.
This case is the result of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Barton is prosecuting the case.
If convicted, Best and Sawa face maximum legal sentences of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each count of conspiracy and wire fraud. Any sentence, however, would be determined at the discretion of the court after considering all applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which consider a number of variables. Accusations are only allegations; defendants are presumed innocent until and unless their guilt is proven beyond a reasonable doubt.