LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- Sentencing has been delayed for a Washington state rancher who pleaded guilty to wire fraud and could face up to 20 years in prison for defrauding Tyson Foods and another unnamed company $244 million in costs for buying and feeding hundreds of thousands of cattle that didn't exist.
Cody Allen Easterday of Mesa, Washington, is expected to be sentenced sometime after Jan. 10, 2022, according to an order from the U.S. District Court for the District of Eastern Washington.
The sentencing was delayed pending the ongoing Chapter 11 bankruptcy filed by Easterday Farms. The Easterday property was sold to Farmland Reserve for $209 million after the company connected to the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints outbid an investment company tied to Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
"This continuance is based upon the need for Mr. Easterday's continued participation in the Easterday Farm/Ranches bankruptcy and liquidation of properties," Easterday's attorneys said in a motion granted by the court.
"The Easterday Farm/Ranches bankruptcy is extraordinary complex and requires Mr. Easterday's constant assistance. Additionally, Mr. Easterday, along with his mother and wife, have entered into a cooperation agreement with debtors and creditors in the bankruptcy, whereby their respective individual real property was combined with the bankruptcy estate's property and sold for the purpose of providing proceeds to creditors.
"Mr. Easterday's continued participation and cooperation is essential to accomplish the liquidation, surrender and delivery of assets prior to year-end."
EXTENSIVE FARM OPERATION
Easterday operated an extensive family farm operation in eastern Washington involved in cattle feeding as well as 22,500 acres of potatoes, onions, corn and wheat in the Columbia Basin.
Beginning in 2016 and continuing through November 2020, Easterday submitted false and fraudulent invoices and other information to Tyson and another company, according to court documents and the U.S. Department of Justice.
The Easterday Ranches, Inc., owner received reimbursement from the companies for the purported purchase and raising cattle the company never actually bought.
As part of the guilty plea, Easterday also agreed to repay $244 million in restitution, according to the DOJ.
CFTC SUED EASTERDAY
The Commodity Futures Trading Corp. sued Easterday, alleging his company violated the Commodity Exchange Act and CFTC regulations.
The CFTC's complaint stated Easterday amassed more than $200 million in losses during a 10-year period trading cattle futures on both his personal and business accounts. Easterday then admitted last fall that he had caused Easterday Ranches to submit invoices for cattle that never existed to cover millions of dollars in those trading losses.
The CFTC complaint seeks restitution, civil penalties and permanent trading and registration bans on Easterday.
On several occasions, according to the CFTC complaint, Easterday carried positions in live cattle futures that exceeded CME exchange-set position limits and "materially overstated" cattle inventory, purchases and sales.
Tyson Fresh Meats sued Easterday Ranches at the end of January 2021, making the allegations.
After the Tyson lawsuit was filed, Easterday Ranches filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Feb. 1, 2021.
ASSETS AND LIABILITIES
According to the filing in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Eastern Washington, Easterday lists liabilities and assets of $100 million to $500 million. The company said it has between 200 and 999 creditors, with Tyson Fresh Meats listed as the top creditor at $225 million.
Easterday Farms -- started in 1958 by Cody Easterday's grandparents -- also filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection that same week.
According to court documents, Cody Easterday used Easterday Ranches to enter into a series of agreements with Tyson and another company to purchase and feed cattle.
As part of the agreements, Tyson and the unnamed second company would provide funds for Easterday to buy and raise cattle.
After cattle were slaughtered and sold at market price, Easterday Ranches would repay the costs advanced and retaining as profit the amount by which the sale price exceeded the sum repaid to Tyson and the second company.
Read more on DTN:
"Winning Bid on Easterday Assets: $209M,"
"WA Rancher Admits 'Ghost-Cattle' Scam,"
Todd Neeley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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