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Ag giant’s case awaits setting for prelim

A date for the preliminary setting has been given in the case of a Madera County farming company that has been charged with stealing water.

At the Madera County Superior Courthouse, Judge Mitchell C. Rigby ordered Argiland CEO Jim Maxwell (who was not present at the arraignment) to return to court on April 6 to determine when he will given a preliminary hearing. According to Madera County District Attorney David A. Linn, prosecution is ready.

This case, unlike the typical criminal case is kind of a hybrid between civil law and criminal law, and that’s this is going to proceed a little bit differently,” Linn said. “I don’t want it to slow down too much, and we will try to move it along as rapidly as possible.”

In the meantime, Judge Rigby has ruled that Maxwell is free to travel outside of the state, as he isn’t considered a flight risk. Linn has also stated that this is a reasonable allowance.

Agriland faces felony charges for 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.

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 found that the pump connected to the pipe had been running for 90 hours, taking 14,850 gallons of water.

Both Maxwell and Agriland will be represented by Dan Bacon, a private practice attorney from Fresno.

“We are adamant that we haven’t violated any criminal statues,” Bacon said. “There is no motivation.”

According to Bacon, as Agriland did not own the land that the water was diverted to, and were only farming on it, they had no reason to steal water. The incident, he said is a misunderstanding.

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. If convicted, Maxwell could face jail time.

“We are all subject to the laws of the State of California,” Linn said. “And in Madera County, we prosecute everyone equally.”

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