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Riverside potato grower indicted on money-laundering charges

February 15, 2011 |  4:14 pm

One of the nation's largest potato growers has been indicted by a Riverside grand jury on charges of laundering tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions, authorities said Tuesday.

James Larry Minor, 70, owner of Agri-Empire Corp. in San Jacinto, is charged with contributing nearly $40,000 in the names of family members, friends and business associates to the Jeff Stone for Senate Campaign in 2009, the California attorney general's office said in a statement.

Stone, a Riverside County supervisor, was unsuccessful in his bid for the state seat.

Stone told The Times that Minor has been a campaign supporter for a decade and described him as an honorable, law-abiding man who would defend himself in court.

"An accusation certainly doesn't mean that one is guilty," Stone said, adding that he did not have any reason to question the contributions.  "Never were we even suspicious or alerted that there was a potential that checks were in any way adulterated or not from the source."

Under state law, it is illegal to hide the true source of campaign donations. Such practices allow donors to exceed legal limits for donating to state political campaigns, the statement said. The limit in 2009 was $3,900.

A worker at the Agri-Empire office told The Times that Minor was not immediately available for comment.

Minor, whose family founded the firm in 1943, is also accused of perjury for allegedly filing a false statement connected to his donations to the Brenda Salas for State Assembly Campaign in 2006. The limit that year was $3,300, and Minor contributed $26,400 in the names of others, according to the attorney general's office.

Minor is scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday in Riverside County Superior Court.

Agri-Empire was honored last year for its successful business operations by the Riverside County Board of Supervisors. The award was presented by Stone, according to a news release. The company ships millions of potatoes to restaurants, markets and others across the United States.

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-- Robert J. Lopez

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