Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Western District of North Carolina
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, September 28, 2022
Former Cargill Employee Is Sentenced To More Than Four Years In Prison For Bribery And Kickback Scheme
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Yesterday, Michael A. Kennedy, 56, of Wichita, Kansas, was sentenced to 50 months in prison for his role in an extensive bribery and kickback scheme that defrauded Cargill, announced Dena J. King, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina. In addition to the prison term imposed, Kennedy was ordered to serve a year under court supervision and to pay restitution in the amount of $33.7 million.
Michael C. Scherck, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Charlotte Division and Tommy D. Coke, Inspector in Charge of the Atlanta Division of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, which oversees Charlotte, join U.S. Attorney King in making today’s announcement.
According to filed court documents and court proceedings, Kennedy was a senior Cargill employee within the Strategic Sourcing Function. Choung “Shawn” Nguyen was a Cargill procurement manager within the same division and reported to Kennedy. Brian Ewert was co-owner and primary sales representative of WDS, Inc., also known as Women’s Distribution Services, Inc. (WDS), a South Carolina-based company that provided non-raw materials and services to Cargill and its affiliates.
According to filed court documents and court proceedings, from 2009 to 2016, Kennedy conspired with Ewert, Nguyen, and others to carry out a fraudulent bribery and kickback scheme. During the course of the scheme, Ewert provided Kennedy and Nguyen and other Cargill employees with more than a $1 million in cash, gifts, and vacations, in exchange for putting the interests of WDS, and other companies Ewert controlled ahead of Cargill’s, including by helping to conceal the fact that WDS was overcharging Cargill. For example, as part of the conspiracy, Ewert provided Kennedy and his family with lavish trips that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, including trips to the Caribbean on Ewert’s private jet and luxury yacht rentals to entertain Kennedy and his family. Ewert also paid for Kennedy and his family to go to Disney World and took them on ski trips. Kennedy and others concealed from Cargill the fact that they had received from Ewert the illicit bribes and kickbacks, in breach of their fiduciary duties to Cargill.
According to court records, in early 2016, after others within Cargill began questioning the relationship between WDS and Cargill, Kennedy, Ewert, and others took numerous steps to conceal from Cargill significant overcharging of Cargill by WDS. Cargill eventually discovered the scheme and terminated its relationship with WDS and Ewert and fired Kennedy and Nguyen.
In December 2021, Kennedy pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud. He will be ordered to report to the federal Bureau of Prisons to begin serving his sentence upon designation of a federal facility.
Ewert and Nguyen were previously sentenced to 60 months and 41 months in prison, respectively. They were each also ordered to serve two years of supervised release and to pay $40.4 million in restitution. Jennifer Maier, the co-owner and Chief Executive Officer of WDS, was sentenced 24 months in prison followed by a year of supervised release and was ordered to pay $3.2 million as restitution.
The FBI and USPIS investigated the case. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Daniel Ryan and Graham Billings, of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte, prosecuted the case.