Rancher Guilty in 'Ghost Cattle' Scheme

The scam generated more than $244 million over four years.

A Washington state rancher last week pleaded guilty to a $244 million scam to defraud Tyson Foods and another unnamed company.

According to the Department of Justice, Cody Easterday, 49, charged the companies for hundreds of thousands of cattle. The only problem was: they didn't exist. 

Easterday, the owner of cattle feedyard Easterday Ranches, agreed to buy and feed more than 200,000 cattle on behalf of Tyson and the other company. He was advanced the costs of buying and raising the cattle. 

After the cattle were slaughtered and sold, Easterday Ranches would repay the advance, including interest, and pocket the profit.

The scheme started in 2016 and continued through November 2020, with Easterday submitting false and fraudulent invoices and other information to Tyson. Easterday Ranches received more than $244 million for the "ghost cattle."

Easterday used the money to cover some $200 million in losses from trading cattle futures over a 10-year period. 

He pleaded guilty to wire fraud and will repay $244,031,132 in restitution. Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 4; he faces up to 20 years in prison. 

According to the Columbia Basin Herald, Easterday Ranches and sister company Easterday Farms are now in federal bankruptcy court with more than $400 million in outstanding debts.

On the same day as his plea, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission filed a civil lawsuit against Easterday Ranches and Cody Easterday. The CFTC seeks restitution, disgorgement and civil monetary penalties, as well as permanent trading and registration bans for Easterday.

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