Botto drew federal prison sentence, fine after admitting he misled bank

Horizon Foods poultry plant Vice President Rory Botto was sentenced to 11 months in prison and five years probation, fined $7,500 and ordered to repay $367,000 to Wells Fargo Bank after he pleaded guilty in 2000 to a federal charge of bank fraud.

Botto was asked about the matter Monday afternoon at the Horizon Foods plant here, which has suspended operations in light of continued financial problems. Botto did not attempt to conceal his “mistake” and stressed that he had brought the matter to the attention of federal authorities in California, where he operated a wholesale meat brokerage and processing company. The business also included facilities in Nevada, according to Stockton newspaper reports.

Botto admitted his guilt in the matter and expressed “regret” in having presented false information to the bank.

He said he has never attempted to conceal his history and that his conviction was known to local officials during discussions here that led to Horizon’s receiving a $329,000 loan incentive from the Economic Development Corp. of Jefferson County in March 2012. The group — charged with overseeing appropriations of revenues from a three-eighths cent sales tax approved by county voters in 2011 and earmarked for job creation — hired the Economic Development Alliance for Jefferson County to help in the effort.

Lou Ann Nisbett, president and chief executive officer of The Alliance, said the loan to Horizon was used by the firm to aid in purchasing freezer equipment. The loan was to be erased at a rate of $1,000 per employee actually hired after five years. The Alliance has a lien on the equipment.

Nisbett and Botto have been in frequent contact since the plant was being renovated and then began operations in July 2012.

After Botto related the plant’s shutdown, Nisbett dispatched a statement to The Commercial.

“We are aware that Horizon Foods has been grappling with some issues, but we still don’t want to give up hope that the company can address those issues and continue providing much-needed jobs for our community,” she said.

— Rick Joslin