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Tyson Caught Up in $244M ‘Ghost Cattle’ Scheme

A man defrauded the meat giant over a 4-year period.

On Wednesday, March 31st, 49-year-old Cody Easterday pleaded guilty to a $244 million scam to defraud Tyson Foods and another unnamed company.

According to the Department of Justice, the Washington man charged the companies to purchase and feed hundreds of thousands of cattle. The only problem was, they didn't exist. 

Cody Easterday owns cattle feedyard Easterday Ranches and he 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 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 August 4th, 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, civil monetary penalties as well as permanent trading and registration bans for Easterday.

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