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NC tobacco broker sentenced to 5 years for fraud

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- A North Carolina tobacco broker will spend 5½ years in federal prison and must repay more than $13 million for cheating the federal crop insurance program.

U.S. District Judge James Dever on Thursday sentenced Jesse Ray "Tommy" Faulkner of Southern Pines. The 54-year-old pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy in an agreement with prosecutors.

Prosecutors say he paid North Carolina and Kentucky farmers and middlemen cash for tobacco, allowing the farmers an opportunity to also collect insurance payments for plants they claimed were damaged or destroyed.

The case comes as federal investigators break up a massive scheme by dozens of eastern North Carolina insurance agents, claims adjusters, brokers and farmers to steal at least $100 million from the government-backed crop insurance program.