A Tri-Cities area rancher pleaded guilty this week to a single count of wire fraud and faces up to 20 years in prison for managing cows he never owned. Investigators say the scam started in 2016, when Cody Easterday contacted with Tyson Foods, to purchase and maintain cattle for the packing giant. However, the cows only existed on paper, and Easterday charged Tyson for the purchase and feeding of hundreds of thousands of animals that never existed. The scam started to come to light in late 2020 when Tyson officials became aware they had been charged for 200,000 cows that Easterday never had in his possession.

Defense attorneys claim Easterday started trading on the commodities market as a hedge against losses in the up-and-down cycle of agriculture markets and became addicted. One defense attorney compared it to a gambling addiction.

Easterday is scheduled to be sentenced on August 4th. In addition to the possible 20 years in prison, he has promised to pay $244 million in restitution.

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