Rancher Pleads Guilty in $244M 'Ghost Cattle' Scam

He billed Tyson Foods for nonexistent cows
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 8, 2021 1:21 PM CDT
Rancher Scammed Tyson With 266K Fake Cows
Some of Easterday's real cows at a watering trough at the Easterday Ranches Inc. feedlot in Pasco, Wash.   (AP Photo/Shannon Dininny)

A rancher in financial trouble scammed Tyson Foods with a gigantic herd of what the Justice Department calls "ghost cattle." Prosecutors say Cody Easterday, who had a contract to buy, raise, and fatten cattle at his Washington state ranch for Tyson and another company, started sending invoices for nonexistent cows after racking up enormous losses trading in corn and cattle futures, Bloomberg reports. The scam lasted around four years before Tyson found its books were "significantly in error" and asked where the beef was, according to a Justice Department release. Court papers state that Easterday confessed when he was confronted by a Tyson representative.

Prosecutors say Easterday, who pleaded guilty last week to one count of wire fraud, scammed Tyson out of more than $233 million and the second company out of $11 million with invoices for nearly 266,000 ghost cows, the Columbia Basin Herald reports. Some of the fraudulent invoices were for a mixture of real and fake cows. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission says Easterday lost around $200 million over a decade with his futures trades, including $50 million in 2018 alone. The Justice Department says the 49-year-old has agreed to pay $244 million in restitution and will face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison when he is sentenced in August. A Tyson rep tells Bloomberg that the company is working with an outside auditor to ensure it only pays for real cows from now on. (Read more Tyson Foods stories.)

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