December 9, 2011 11:37:00 AM
CRYSTAL SPRINGS -- A Wesson man has been charged with selling hay over the Internet. Authorities say the problem is James Darin Hoffman had no hay.
Copiah County chief investigator Milton Twiner told The Clarion-Ledger that Hoffman was freed on $50,000 shortly after his arrest on Nov. 29.
Twiner said Hoffman is accused of selling hay to farmers in Texas through a website called The Hay Barn. The site calls itself a "classified ad site for hay, hay equipment, and haying services."
Twiner said Texas was an easy target as it is under a state of emergency because of the ongoing drought. Grimes County, Texas, investigator Jimmy Armatys said farmers are frantically trying to figure out how to keep their animals fed.
"There's just no hay here," he said. "They'll pretty much buy anything they can get their hands on. People are taking ads out in the paper. They're desperate."
Twiner said during September and October, Hoffman advertised for hay and farmers sent him money. They bought hay that never arrived.
The investigation began when Iola, Texas, farmer Laramie Wheaton called Texas authorities when he didn't receive hay he ordered from Hoffman. The Texas Rangers also became involved because one of the bank transfers originated in Bryan, Texas.
The investigation led to Mississippi and Hoffman, who is charged with four counts of false pretenses.
Twiner said so far, one farmer has spent $10,200 on "invisible hay." Another lost $14,600, and two more spent $3,200 and $1,830, respectively.
Twiner said the fraud case has been turned over to the Mississippi Department of Agriculture Theft Bureau.