Easterday Ranches in Pasco, Washington is a real place with real animals formerly run by one Cody Easterday. This story begins when Easterday Ranches secured a contract to house, raise and feed bovines for Tyson (an arrangement that dates back to at least 2010) and ends with a rancher who gambled away over $200 million in cattle and corn futures. The man responsible will spend decades in prison.

Easterday was known for raising and fattening cattle that ideally weigh more than 1,000 pounds each. Tyson Fresh Meats Inc. paid the ranch millions of dollars for purchasing cattle on its behalf and fattening them for slaughter. However, 5 years ago Easterday started producing fake invoices for never-purchased animals, “ghost cattle.” The reason for the deception was that Easterday was using the proceeds to cover steep losses from risky futures trading. Over the life of the contract Cody Easterday lost money every year trading corn and cattle futures in his personal and business accounts, ultimately totaling more than $200 million. Tyson alleges he used payments from Tyson to cover his bad bets and lied to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange about the ranch’s cattle inventory so he could keep trading.

Things came to a head in 2020, when Tyson discovered that its books were “significantly in error.” Specifically, Tyson discovered the missing animals were neither processed in their facilities nor were they present at Easterday Ranches. Easterday quickly admitted his wrong doing and the billing scheme after being confronted by Tyson representatives. Easterday, 49, pleaded guilty last week to one count of wire fraud that cost Tyson and another, unnamed company $244 million. He agreed to repay the sum and faces up to 20 years in prison (Sentencing is set for August).

After Tyson learned of the fake bills, they cut off payments to the ranch, destroying its finances and forcing Easterday Ranches to file for bankruptcy in February.

“Unfortunately, Cody was lured by the market and began very speculative commodity investing that was both unnecessary and uncontrolled,” Easterday’s defense attorney, Carl Oreskovich, said in emailed comments. “As with any gambler, he believed that he could and would repay the funds by wins in the commodities market, but that did not transpire.”

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