Image via Madera Irrigation District Facebook page
Written by Donald A. Promnitz
With another court date looming in a water theft case involving the largest agricultural company in Madera County, prosecutors are seeking a resolution to spare those involved from a trial.
“I’m certainly hopeful that this case can be resolved without everyone spending significant money in trying it,” said Madera County District Attorney David A. Linn. “And if we can’t resolve it, we are prepared to go to preliminary hearing.”
According to Linn, his office has offered a resolution to Agriland Farming Company, Inc. and its CEO, James R. Maxwell, for restitution to the Madera Irrigation District (MID). Both Maxwell and his company were charged in February for the alleged siphoning of water from a canal belonging to the district.
With its headquarters in Chowchilla, Agriland manages 23,000 acres, making it the largest landowner in Madera County. According to the American Fruit Grower Magazine, it is the third largest nut grower in the United States. The company also farms grapes, citrus and figs.
The next meeting on the matter will be held at the Madera County Superior Courthouse on June 26. Madera County Judge Mitchell C. Rigby will preside over the case. Linn noted that Agriland’s legal representation would also be discussed — specifically whether or not an additional attorney should be brought on for defense.
“We don’t want [this case] to come back on appeal or technicality. And that is my goal, and that is why I want to ensure that everyone’s rights are protected,” Linn said, “and that the defendants each have comfortably exercised their right to counsel, and so we’re ensuring that that occurs.”
Fresno attorney Dan Bacon, who is representing both Maxwell and Agriland, said that he has not yet had the opportunity to speak with his client about the latest offer from Linn’s office, as he is out of the country. Bacon, however, has stated that Maxwell will most likely reject the resolution, as he maintains his innocence.
Maxwell’s attorney also dismissed Linn’s claims that further representation is necessary for a fair trial.
“I feel that I do have the means to take care of both,” Bacon said. “I think the district attorney is just raising a red herring.”
According to Linn, Agriland had declined irrigation services from MID for a piece of farmland in its previous water season, despite being a regular customer. Not long after declining these services, a pipe was reportedly found running from the canals to the land. The pump, Linn stated, had been running 90 hours, taking nearly 15,000 gallons of water.
Agriland faces felony charges of taking water in excess of $950, along with unlawful obtaining of utility services. Maxwell has received misdemeanor charges for the same alleged offenses, while both he, and his company, share a misdemeanor charge for trespassing. Maxwell could face jail time if convicted.