Easterday Bankruptcy Nears Completion

Tyson to Offer Liquidation Plan for Ranch at Center of Bill Gates Land Pursuit

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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The sentencing of a former rancher from eastern Washington who pleaded guilty to wire fraud, has been delayed until later this summer. (DTN graphic by Nick Scalise)

LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- The criminal sentencing of former eastern Washington rancher Cody Allen Easterday has been stayed for a fourth time until later this summer, as the bankruptcy case for Easterday Ranches Inc. is nearing a conclusion. Easterday was scheduled to be sentenced on June 13, after pleading guilty to wire fraud charges in a so-called "ghost-cattle" scheme.

In a joint motion to stay the sentencing to Aug. 10, Easterday attorneys and attorneys for the Commodity Futures Trading Corporation told the U.S. District Court for the District of Eastern Washington this week the debtors in a related bankruptcy case, including Tyson Fresh Meats, plan to file a joint plan to liquidate Easterday's ranch assets.

Easterday has been involved in an ongoing Chapter 11 bankruptcy dispute regarding the proceeds from a $209 million sale of his farm and ranch assets to pay creditors.

The Easterday Ranches 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.

In the joint motion to stay the criminal sentencing, attorneys said they are hopeful a settlement can be negotiated.

"All holders of unsecured claims will be entitled to vote for the approval or rejection of the plan," Easterday's attorneys said in a motion before the district court.

"It is anticipated that the plan will hopefully be approved by the end of July. Based upon the expected timing of an approved plan for liquidation in the bankruptcy proceeding the parties, Cody Easterday and Commodities Futures Trading Commission, request an additional approximate 90 days."

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.

There has been a dispute about who should receive the hundreds of millions of dollars in proceeds from a number of sales related to the property. Easterday has been actively involved in the sales to pay off creditors.

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.

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.

Easterday received reimbursement from the companies to purchase and raise cattle Easterday's company never actually bought.

As part of the guilty plea, Easterday also agreed to repay $244 million in restitution, according to the DOJ.

The CFTC 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 through 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 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.

Read more on DTN:

"WA Rancher Sentencing Moved to June 13," https://www.dtnpf.com/…

"Winning Bid on Easterday Assets: $209M," https://www.dtnpf.com/…

"WA Rancher Admits 'Ghost-Cattle' Scam," https://www.dtnpf.com/…

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @DTNeeley

Todd Neeley