EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. — A southern Illinois farmer pleaded guilty Wednesday to federal bankruptcy fraud charges, and outside court his attorney said his client had nothing to do with the unsolved slayings of a potential witness and his wife.
Joseph Diekemper, 60, of Carlyle, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bank and mail fraud, making a false statement to the Department of Agriculture and perjuring himself during earlier bankruptcy proceedings.
Diekemper’s wife, Margaret Diekemper, 64, pleaded guilty last week to a federal charge of conspiring with her husband to commit bankruptcy fraud and agreed to help authorities.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Hudson would not comment after Wednesday’s hearing. However, federal prosecutors have said that Diekemper filed for bankruptcy in 2004, then hid farm equipment, allowed vehicle titles to be put into the names of other people and fraudulently obtained agricultural subsidies on land that already had been turned over to a creditor.
As part of the scheme, authorities say, Diekemper stashed a tractor behind a false wall in an outbuilding on property rented by George and Linda Weedon.
The Weedons were found shot to death in April 2007, just days after George Weedon approached the FBI about the tractor and told an investigator he worried Joseph Diekemper would burn down his house if he ever found out, according to an FBI memo filed in the fraud case. When the couple’s bodies were found, their rental home was ablaze.
No one has been charged in the deaths.
After Wednesday’s hearing, Diekemper’s attorney told reporters that the Diekempers were not involved in the Weedons’ deaths.
“All I can tell you is, number one, he had nothing to do with that incident, neither he nor his wife,” attorney Gilbert Sison said.
Sison said Joseph Diekemper had taken responsibility for the fraud crimes. “He has basically said, ‘I did wrong,”’ Sison said.
Sentencing for the Diekempers is set for March 9, when it’s expected 19 other counts against Joseph Diekemper will be dropped.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Clifford Proud said Joseph Diekemper could face up to 35 years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. His wife faces up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines.