Ex-cocoa company executives charged with defrauding lenders

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NEW YORK (AP) — Three former executives of a major cocoa company were arrested Tuesday on charges that they defrauded lenders out of hundreds of millions of dollars by lying repeatedly about the company's financial condition.

Acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim announced the arrests of executives of Transmar Commodity Group Limited, saying evidence against the men included emails in which they discussed using fake financial records to maintain a $250 million to $400 million line of credit from banks.

Kim said the men carried out the fraud from at least 2014 through at least December 2016 while working for a cocoa company that supplied some of the world's largest confectionary conglomerates.

William F. Sweeney Jr., head of New York's FBI office, said the executives manipulated the value of the company "in more ways than one, in order to receive loans they didn't qualify for — plain and simple."

Those charged in an indictment were identified as Peter G. Johnson, 68, of Harding Township, New Jersey, Peter B. Johnson, 38, of Morristown, New Jersey, and Thomas Reich, 59, of Montvale, New Jersey.

Prosecutors said Peter G. Johnson was Transmar's president and chief executive officer while his son, Peter B. Johnson, was responsible for the operations of Transmar affiliate Euromar Commodities. Reich worked in Transmar's finance department.

Attorney Shalom Stone, representing Peter B. Johnson, said his client "has done nothing improper or illegal" and "looks forward to his day in court."

"He is confident that he will be exonerated," Stone added.

Lawyers for the other two defendants did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

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