Archive for Wednesday, December 8, 2004

Behind the scenes: How the fertilizer story unfolded

December 8, 2004

Channel 5's newscast last week about the sale of fertilizer began weeks before the program aired.

In fact, television station employees made not one, but two, trips to McGraw Fertilizer before their Nov. 30 visit when they came in the office with their camera and interviewed owner, Bill McGraw, and, Dorothy Lean, secretary and treasurer of the corporation.

Bill McGraw, a lifelong Tonganoxie-area farmer, feels he was dealt
an unfair blow by a Kansas City, Mo., television station.

Bill McGraw, a lifelong Tonganoxie-area farmer, feels he was dealt an unfair blow by a Kansas City, Mo., television station.

Lean said normally they know most of their customers. The business is five miles north of Tonganoxie and many of their clients are area farmers.

Two weeks before the newscast, Lean said, two vehicles -- a U-Haul truck and a blue blazer, pulled up at McGraw Fertilizer.

A man came in and said he was new to the area.

"He said he'd moved into town and he needed bags of ammonium nitrate," Lean said.

"I said we don't have bags of nitrate, but we have lawn fertilizer," Lean said.

He said he'd buy two 40-pound bags of the lawn fertilizer, which is a 20-10-10 mixture -- containing 20 percent nitrogen, 10 percent phosphate and 10 percent potash. The bags were loaded into the U-Haul truck and the vehicles left.

A week later, a man drove up in a black S-10 pickup with Johnson County tags.

"He said I need some bags of nitrate and I said we don't sell bags of nitrate," Lean said.

That man bought 10 40-pound bags of the 20-10-10 fertilizer. When Joe Hicks, who works at McGraws, went into another building to get the fertilizer, the man got in his truck and followed. Lean noticed the same blue Blazer that had been there the week before followed the truck.

She didn't know it at the time, but the man in the Blazer filmed Joe Hicks as he put the fertilizer in the truck.

She wasn't sure why, but Lean said she felt something was not quite right. So she wrote down the pickup's license plate number. And, in writing a receipt, she asked for and got the name and address of the person driving it. The license plate number later proved to match the buyer's name and address.

The next week -- on Nov. 30 -- Channel 5 newscaster Dave Helling came into the office, "with the guy in the blue Blazer who was actually the cameraman," Lean said.

"They were very, very nice," Lean said. "They told us they didn't know anything about fertilizer, so Bill was trying to tell them about it."

They stayed about 20 minutes, she said.

During that time, Lean told Helling she had noted the pickup truck's license plate the week before.

"The guy asked me, well how did you know to get the license plate number," Lean said. "Well, the blue Blazer had been here twice with two different people. We know everybody here, we watch what's going on, we pay attention in this business."

Now, after having seen the broadcast, Lean said she and Bill McGraw realize they had been taken advantage of.

"We were very vulnerable and gullible, Bill and I both."

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