Easterday sentenced to 11 years in prison, $244 million in restitution for massive "ghost cattle" scam

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A well-known rancher from Washington, who owned cattle in Alberta in the past, has been sentenced to 11 years in prison and ordered to pay more than US$244 million in restitution for running a “ghost cattle” scam.

Cody Easterday, 51, of Mesa, Washington, was sentenced on October 4 for defrauding Tyson Foods and another unnamed company, after charging them for purchasing, raising, and feeding an estimated 265 thousand cattle that did not exist, over a four-year period.

Chief District Judge Stanley Bastian told the courtroom the case was “the biggest theft or fraud I’ve seen in my career — and the biggest I ever hope to see.”

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Washington, Easterday used most of the proceeds from the scam to cover approximately $200 million in futures trading losses. Some of the remaining proceeds were used to benefit the Easterday farm business, which in 2020 included more than 22 thousand acres of farmland, 150 employees, revenues over $250 million, and a private plane and hangar.

Easterday Ranches and other related companies filed for bankruptcy shortly after the fraud case was made public in late 2020. The attorney’s office says approximately $65 million has been recovered through the sale of property, farm equipment, and aircraft.

“The scale and brazenness of Mr. Easterday’s fraud is immense,” said Assistant United States 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.”

Easterday’s cattle business extended north of the Canada-U.S. border into southern Alberta, including a feedlot near Coaldale. He was a staunch opponent of U.S. mandatory country-of-origin labelling, and filed a lawsuit against the U. S. Department of Agriculture over COOL after it was implemented in 2008.

Related: Ghost-herd scheme results in several lawsuits

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