The CEO of a Madera County farming company is awaiting his day in court after charges were pressed against his company and against him for allegedly stealing water from a Madera Irrigation District ditch.
“It was a difficult decision for me to proceed with the case. I believe the law had been broken, but I knew many of the victims and the defendants,” said Madera County District Attorney David A. Linn. “But my job is to uphold the law.”
According to Linn, Agriland Farming Company, Inc, and its CEO, James R. Maxwell, are scheduled to appear in the Madera County Superior Court before Judge Mitchell Rigby for arraignment on Feb. 23.
The company, Linn said, faces felony charges from his office of the unlawful taking of water in excess of $950, and the unlawful obtaining of utility services from the Madera Irrigation District (MID), while Maxwell faces misdemeanor charges for the same reported offenses. In addition, Agriland and Maxwell also share a misdemeanor charge of trespassing.
“This is a case that I will personally be handling, largely because I have the most experience in this type of criminal and civil action in our office,” Linn said. “And I’m the lead council in this case.”
Maxwell and Agriland will be represented by Dan Bacon, a private practice attorney from Fresno.
Headquartered in Chowchilla, Agriland, which manages 23,000 acres, is the largest landowner in Madera County, and is the third largest nut grower in the United States, according to American Fruit Grower Magazine. In addition to nuts, Agriland also grows citrus, figs, and grapes on their land.
According to Linn, Agriland, a subscriber for water from MID, had declined their services during the most recent water season. Shortly after declining, a pipe was reportedly found running from one of the Irrigation District’s ditches to Agriland. The charges against Maxwell and his company came after four months of investigation by the District Attorney’s office.
Linn stated that their investigation found that the pump connected to the pipe had been running for 90 hours, taking 14,850 gallons of water.
If convicted, Maxwell could face time in jail.
“We are all subject to the laws of the State of California,” Linn said. “And in Madera County, we prosecute everyone equally.”