They are not the last cowboy song but they are likely the final full pardons from the 45th President of the United States.
And they are being forgiven for breaking some of the most basic food safety laws after having gotten off pretty light to begin with.
A posthumous pardon went to Martin F. Jorgensen Jr. who died in 2020 at age 95. His son Gregory L. Jorgensen, 69, and Deborah L. Jorgensen, 67, were granted full pardons.
A 14-day jury trial more than two decades ago in January 1996 resulted in the three Jorensens going to jail, but not for long. They were in July 1996. Martin got a 15-month prison sentence. Gregory was sentenced to 24 months and Deborah to 12 months. The jail time and the total of $100,000 in fines for the trio, were all appealed. A review by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit upheld the Pierre, SD, trial court.
For the family’s 20,000-acre Jorgenson Land and Cattle (JLC) located in south-central South Dakota near Ideal, SD, being convicted of federal felonies was not part of the plan.
It was a plan that some South Dakota cattle producers hatched several years earlier was to market and sell their beef as a premium product as both heart-healthy and antibiotic- and hormone-free. But when demand outstripped the supply, the Jorgensens mixed in inferior commercial beef trim.
The crime the Jorgensens committed was knowingly selling misbranded beef, according to the presidential pardons.
The jury convictions were not that simple. Gregory L. Jorgensen was found guilty of multiple counts of misbranding and aiding and abetting, wire and mail fraud, and the sale and transport of adulterated or misbranded products. And he was also found guilty of conspiracy to defraud the United States.
More than two dozen other charges originally brought against Gregory L. Jorgensen were terminated before trial.
The jury convicted Martin F. Jorgensen Jr. for conspiracy to defraud the United States, selling or transporting adulterated or misbranded products, and four counts of misbranding and aiding and abetting. Numerous other charges were also terminated by the government before trial.
The federal felonies that Deborah L. Jorgensen was convicted on included: conspiracy to defraud the United States; wire and mail fraud; sale or transport of adulterated or misbranded products, and multiple counts of aiding and abetting.
Numerous felony counts against her were also terminated by the government before trial.
Because the trial transcript was not immediately available, it’s difficult to say the Jorensens got off easy. However, the charges brought against them have returned stiffer sentences in recent years, especially those where the harm to human health is clear.
Charles B. Kornmann, now the senior U.S. District Court judge for South Dakota, presided over the 1996 trial.
“Gov. Kristi Noem, R-SD, and Sen. Mike Rounds, R-SD, support clemency for this family, which has an exemplary record of service to their community,” said a White House statement shortly before the transition to the Biden Administration.
Since his release from federal custody on May 29, 1998, Gregory L. Jorgensen was twice elected to the Tripp County Board of Commissioners. He has spearheaded infrastructure projects to improve access for Native American communities. And Deborah Jorgensen works to increase educational opportunities for women.
The National Beef Cattleman’s Association recognized Martin Jorgensen as Businessman of the Year. Their supporters say the Jogensens have shown remorse for their crimes with decades of exemplary public service, making them deserving of the pardons.
Before his death in 2019, memories of Martin Jorgensen Jr. were published with the history of the Jorgensen Lands and Cattle Co. His parents were homesteaders who first broke the prairie sod in 1909 and the family that made the cattle company one of the world’s top farming and livestock operations.
The book “Ideal Pioneers” by Joe Roybal is available on Amazon.
Jorgensen Land & Cattle annually markets about 3,500 Angus bulls.
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