Rancher sentenced for ‘ghost cattle’ fraud against Tyson Foods

SPOKANE, Wash. — A federal judge sentenced an eastern Washington rancher to 11 years in prison by a federal judge for a massive “ghost cattle” scam that defrauded Tyson Foods and another company out of more than $244 million.

Cody Easterday, 51, of Mesa, Washington, was sentenced Tuesday in federal court in Yakima, Washington, for what U.S. District Court Judge Stanley Bastian called “the biggest theft or fraud I’ve seen in my career.”

Prosecutors contended Easterday fraudulently charged the companies for approximately 265,000 head of cattle that did not exist and destroyed his family’s ranching empire in the process.

Tyson Foods has plants across Iowa.
Tyson Foods has plants across Iowa.

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“No one is above the law,” said Vanessa Waldref, the U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Washington. “Mr. Easterday amassed significant personal wealth, yet, he wanted more, so he defrauded his victims of nearly a quarter-billion dollars by charging for cattle that never existed.”

The scheme was detected in a 2020 internal review by Tyson, which is headquartered in Arkansas and employs thousands at multiple facilities in Iowa.

Easterday pleaded guilty to wire fraud on March 31, 2021.

The judge also ordered him to pay $244 million in restitution and serve three years of probation after he is released from prison.

Prosecutors said Easterday and his business, Easterday Ranches Inc., entered into agreements with Tyson Foods and another company, whereby Easterday Ranches agreed to purchase and feed cattle on their behalf.

Under the agreements, the companies advanced Easterday Ranches money to cover the costs of buying and raising the cattle.

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Prosecutors said Easterday used most of the fraud proceeds to cover approximately $200 million in losses he incurred from commodity futures trading on behalf of Easterday Ranches.

The remainder of the $244 million Easterday stole from the companies went toward Easterday’s personal use and for the benefit of the Easterday farming empire, which included more than 22,000 acres of farmland, 150 employees and revenues of more than $250 million.

Shortly after Easterday’s massive fraud was uncovered, Easterday Ranches and another of his companies, Easterday Farms, Inc., went into bankruptcy, prosecutors said.

“The scale and brazenness of Mr. Easterday’s fraud is immense,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian M. Donovan, who handled restitution and bankruptcy proceedings on behalf of the United States. “Mr. Easterday’s greed destroyed his family’s farming empire and harmed innocent victims.”

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: 'Ghost cattle' rancher sentenced in fraud scheme against Tyson Foods