LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- Former Washington state rancher Cody Allen Easterday is scheduled to be sentenced on June 13, after a federal judge on Thursday granted a third continuance in a complex case that includes a guilty plea on wire fraud charges in a so-called ghost-cattle scheme and an ongoing massive bankruptcy case.
Easterday, who is also involved in an ongoing Chapter 11 bankruptcy dispute regarding the proceeds from a recent $209 million sale of his farm and ranch assets to pay creditors, had asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Eastern Washington for the continuance for sentencing in his criminal case.
Easterday could face up to 20 years in prison for defrauding Tyson Fresh Meats and another unnamed company of $244 million for buying and feeding hundreds of thousands of cattle that didn't exist. Easterday was scheduled for sentencing on Jan. 24.
According to a declaration filed by Easterday's attorney, the now-former rancher has been working to sell off property to pay creditors. However, an agreement could not be reached by creditors on how to allocate the proceeds from those sales. This has led to a lawsuit filed against Easterday, according to court records, which is set for trial beginning on April 28, 2022.
Chief Judge Stanley A. Bastian said during a hearing on the motion Thursday there were a number of reasons for granting the motion.
"I'm not continuing this case for convenience for Mr. Easterday. I'm doing this for the convenience of the bankruptcy court," Bastian said.
"Part of the mess that has been created here is not just the criminal. Mr. Easterday will face justice and certainly at the appropriate time, but the bankruptcy court and judge (Whitman) Holt have quite a significant case on this docket and they need all the parties present and available to that court to resolve. Mr. Easterday is doing what he promised to do when he pled guilty in my courtroom, to try to help clean this mess up as best that he can and that includes assisting the bankruptcy court."
The Easterday Farms 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.
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.
The trial set in the bankruptcy case in eastern Washington, involves a dispute about who should receive the hundreds of millions of dollars in proceeds from a number of sales. Easterday has been actively involved in the sales as a means to pay off creditors.
Tyson opposed the continuance in the criminal case, saying in a brief filed with the district court that Easterday had "mischaracterized" his role in the sales.
"Rather than cooperating to maximize the recovery of Tyson, defendant is actively working to hinder such recovery," Tyson said in its brief.
In the early stages of the ranches and farms bankruptcy cases, Tyson said, it "appeared defendant and his family members were willing to work with the companies and their creditors in order to allow a coordinated sale" on a number of properties so that proceeds from the sale were maximized.
"The sale is now closed, and unfortunately defendant's feigned cooperation is long over," Tyson said in the brief.
"Indeed, defendant is now actively seeking to thwart creditor recoveries by steering tens of millions of dollars in disputed sale proceeds to his mother and wife rather than to creditors."
On Sept. 22, 2021, the boards of directors of Easterday Farms and Easterday Ranches decided to file a complaint against Cody Easterday and other members of his family. The boards want a court to declare the disputed real estate and related property belongs exclusively to the debtor estates and not Easterday or other family members.
"The independent board is also pursuing confirmation of a Chapter 11 plan which, if confirmed, will allocate all net proceeds from such disputed properties to creditors (including Tyson and others) and provide zero recovery to the Easterday family on account of their equity interests," Tyson said in its brief.
Easterday and other family members oppose the complaint and argue some of the proceeds from the disputed properties are assets of individual family members. The family also opposes the bankruptcy plan because they "will receive nothing on account of their equity interests," Tyson told the court.
"While defeating the allocation complaint -- as defendant and his family are attempting to do -- would modestly increase defendant's recovery on account of his individual interest in property," Tyson said.
"Defeating the allocation complaint would also serve to steer tens of millions of dollars to defendant's wife and mother rather than to the companies."
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 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.
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 in the fall of 2020 that he had caused Easterday Ranches to submit invoices for cattle that never existed to cover millions of dollars in those trading losses.
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.
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.
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:
"WA Rancher Admits Ghost-Cattle Scam," https://www.dtnpf.com/…
"Winning Bid on Easterday Assets: $209M," https://www.dtnpf.com/…
Todd Neeley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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