By Shereen Siewert

A Wisconsin Rapids-area cheese factory owner was convicted this week of stealing from 83 Wood County farmers after pleading guilty in federal court.

Michael J. Moran, owner of Wisconsin Dairy State Cheese Company, now stands convicted of felony theft and will spend one year on probation, serve 100 hours of community service and pay nearly $10,000 in fines and other costs, according to a news release issued Friday by Attorney General Josh Kaul.

Moran has already prepaid restitution of $21,250.97, which will be distributed to the victims the case.

“I’m proud of the work Wisconsin Department of Justice did to get justice for these hard-working Wisconsinites,” said Attorney General Kaul. “This case has ensured that 83 farmers got the money they were owed and hopefully will deter future theft from Wisconsin dairy farmers.”

Prosecutors say Moran forged the names of farmers on underpayment checks and converted the funds for his own use or the use of others at Dairy State Cheese Company in Rudolph. Processors, such as cheese plants, write underpayment checks to producers, such as dairy farmers, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) sets the price of milk higher than what a processor initially paid for the milk. USDA auditors determine the amount of underpayment and order processors to issue the underpayment checks.

After forging the payees’ signatures on the back of the checks, Moran would then place them in the cash register at the cheese store thereby converting them for his own use, all without the consent of the payees. The checks from the register would then be taken together to the bank at the end of the week and deposited.

Of the 83 victims, 21 are over 60 years old.

This case was prosecuted by the DOJ Division of Legal Services (DLS) Criminal Litigation Unit Assistant Attorney General Dan Lennington. The investigation was led by the DOJ Division of Criminal Investigation, with assistance from the USDA Office of Inspector General. OCVS assisted victims.