By ERIC C. RODENBERG
MOORESVILLE, Ind. — Hoosier dairy farmer Ron Hollander is not only crying over spilt milk, he is charging that someone – “possibly” his milk hauler – has stolen at least $10,000 in milk during the last year.
The Indiana State Police and Morgan County Prosecutor’s office have been investigating the matter in which Hollander claims that he is missing 43,104 pounds of milk having a dollar value of $9,900 from February 2012 to October 2012. The Indiana Creamery License Division, established by state law for weighing, sampling and testing milk, also confirms that Hollander was shorted by more than 29,000 pounds during July, August and September 2012.
A criminal case, however, will not be filed against the milk hauler Randy Bruce. “We can’t prove it was a theft case, so there is no case to file,” Morgan County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Bob Cline said. “Right now, there are no further charges.”
No one, it seems, can prove where the missing raw milk went. The shortage was confirmed by Creamery Division Manager Christy K. Coon by comparing the number recorded by the milk hauler on the “barn charts” kept on the milking premises with the raw milk manifest, which records the quantity of milk taken to the processing plant.
Although a field representative from Dean Foods told the Indiana State Police he didn’t believe hauler Randy Bruce was stealing milk, and attributed the loss to shoddy record keeping. Bruce was terminated by the company on Oct. 15.
On Dec. 4, acting on information provided by Hollander and the Indiana State Police, the Creamery Division pulled Bruce’s license to haul milk. On Jan. 31, Hollander told Indiana State Police Detective Brian Smith he believed Bruce, was either selling the milk outright, or putting the milk into another dairy producer’s bulk tank and splitting the money with him.
“At this point in the investigation it would appear that it would be hard to prove that Mr. Bruce was actually stealing milk or if so, where the milk was going,” Smith wrote in a March 1 report to the prosecutor’s office. “However, I believe it has been well proven that Mr. Randy Bruce is in violation of IC 15-18-2-15. Fraudulent manipulation of weights or samples of milk and/or cream.”
On April 10, Bruce pleaded guilty to a Class A Misdemeanor charge of fraudulent manipulation of weights in the Martinsville City Court. He was fined $200.
Bruce, who said he has hauled milk for 37 years, denies stealing milk. He attributes the stolen milk to a “really sloppy job in paperwork” by employees he hired after suffering an accident in the fall.
He said it was much easier to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge, than attempt to fight the allegation.
“It was a really easy decision,” Bruce said. “Compare $200; with at least $2,500 … he (Hollander) has really made a mountain out of a mole hill.
“I told Hollander that I just couldn’t haul his milk last fall,” Bruce said. “I wanted out of it, but Dean (the milk plant) wouldn’t hear of it, and Ron kept begging me to … he’s a small farmer and I hate to see the little guy pushed out.”
Hollander, who has been in the dairy business 13 years, milks 32 to 40 registered Holsteins.
Bruce claims that during the 37 years he has hauled milk, he has had no complaints from farmers or licensing authorities. His family has been hauling milk since 1946.
In the five and a half years that Coon has been manager of the Indiana Creamery License Division, she said she has never seen such a controversy. “For us, the case is closed,” she said. “He (Bruce) can formally request a hearing to get his license back. It’s not our intent to put anyone out of business, but standards must be met.”
Whatever the outcome, everyone involved believes it is a “no-win” situation.
“The $10,000 is a lot of money to a small producer,” Hollander said.
“I have had to sell cows, I’ve had to take high interest loans out and my feed is costing me more. It’s going to have a domino effect … over the next two years; I can see this thing costing over $100,000.”
Hollander has hired Indianapolis attorney Scott D. Gilchrist.
“We are in the process of investigating areas of possible relief for Mr. Hollander,” Gilchrist said.
Part of Hollander’s loss includes milk that was forced to pour out in October because Bruce failed to show up for five days. After being forced to dump the milk, Hollander began comparing his pay checks to the barn charts and milk manifests.
Bruce concedes that he owes Hollander up to $2,000 for the dumped milk.
“I told him that I would try to make it up to him,” Bruce said. “And I will. But $10,000 is a very exaggerated figure … more like $2,000 would be close.”
On April 10, the day Bruce pleaded guilty in Martinsville for fraudulent manipulation of weights, he said he met with Hollander at a local restaurant.
“I asked him, why don’t we go to Dean and try to straighten this thing out? He said, ‘no, they hate my guts.’ I never denied what happened, but it’s just stupid to think that I’m going to steal his raw milk. What would I do with it? We sat and talked for a couple hours. I wanted to work it out – I was trying to pay him for that money he lost, but he wasn’t interested … now, I’m losing everything because of Ron Hollander.”