Cattle scam costs fair $178,000
By Carrie A. Mizell
FFA and 4-H members who showed steers at the Suwannee River Fair will be receiving checks for their animals, despite con artists’ elaborate scam that will cost the fair $178,000.
One man with Trenton ties has been arrested in Illinois and investigators are now searching for a second suspect Ron Shepard, who has a $1 million bond on his head. Shepard and Jeremy Pierce, who turned himself in to authorities in Illinois, face charges of Scheme to Defraud.
Gilchrist County resident Larry Lindsey, owner of Lindsey Cattle Company, won the bid to purchase the steers at the Suwannee River Fair on March 20 with a resale of $1.11 per pound on fat steers and $1.53 per pound on feeder steers.
According to Investigator Jimmy Anderson of the Levy County Sheriff’s Office, Lindsey contracted with Ron Shepard to pick up and deliver the cows to United Producers Inc. in Illinois. Everything seemed to be going fine, until Shepard did not return to Florida with the money for the sale of the cows.
Investigators have determined that Shepard made the delivery and received a check from United Producers, Inc. for the amount of $200,000.21, which included all of the steers from the Suwannee River Fair and 17 steers Lindsey had purchased at the Okeechobee County Fair on March 17, and taken to his farm near Hart Springs. After taking possession of the check, Shepard disappeared.
Shephard’s business partner, Jeremy Pierce contacted law enforcement officers in Illinois to file a missing person’s report.
After being contacted by Bell attorney Ray Earl Thomas, Jr., who is representing Lindsey, Investigator Anderson explained that he began looking into the matter and discovered other states also have active investigations regarding the theft of cattle in Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, and Texas. Shepard and Pierce allegedly scammed millions of dollars worth of cattle from all over the country.
Investigator Anderson also determined that Shepard had been in contact with United Producers prior to his arrival with Lindsey’s cattle and that he had United Producers write the check meant for Lindsey to his personal business, Brookfield Cattle, which is owned by himself and Pierce. Investigator Anderson was able to obtain video from a bank in Illinois showing Jeremy Pierce depositing the check meant for Lindsey.
“Somehow, Pierce obtained the check from Shepard and deposited it into a second business account titled Brookport Cattle Company,” Investigator Anderson stated.
While working with the FBI and the Florida Division of Agriculture on the joint investigation, Investigator Anderson yielded more than enough evidence to obtain warrants for both Shepard and Pierce.
On April 19, Investigator Anderson met with Circuit Judge David Glant and secured warrants to arrest Shepard and Pierce for Scheme to Defraud. Each warrant had a bond of $1 million. According to Investigator Anderson, Pierce had a hearing in Illinois on Monday and should be extradited back to Florida.
Investigator Anderson said that no charges have been filed against Lindsey at this time.
“We believe he [Lindsey] was taken by a crook,” Anderson said.
However, Investigator Anderson did say that Lindsey was involved in a similar scheme to defraud involving cattle that occurred in Gilchrist County in the late 1990s, or early 2000s. He was not charged in that case, but he was working with Ron Shepard at the time and Shepard served four years prison time for his involvement and is currently on probation.
“It was the same type of case,” Anderson said.
Ray Earl Thomas, Jr., said on Tuesday that his client, Larry Lindsey is cooperating with law enforcement, and the USDA in regards to the Packers and Stockyards Act.
“He’s working to take all the steps he can take to recover the money,” Thomas said.
Suwannee River Fair President Loran Brookins said on Tuesday that Lindsey has purchased the feeder and fat steers at the Suwannee River Fair for the last four years in a row without incident. However, this year’s fiasco has forced the Suwannee River Fair officials to file a $15,000 bond against Lindsey.
Fair Board members will meet on Thursday evening to discuss the matter and determine how to proceed.
“We’ve been conservative over the last few years, so we have money saved and we’ll probably go to the bank to borrow the rest that we need,” Brookins said. “We’re going to just have to borrow the money, write the checks for the kids, and go from there.”
Brookins said he does not believe Lindsey was directly involved with scamming the fair, which he had a grandchild participating in, but that does not mean he is not responsible to pay for the resale of the animals, which is valued at roughly $178,000.
“He [Lindsey] is solely responsible because that’s who we sold the cattle to,” Brookins said.
In the future, Brookins said the Suwannee River Fair will require anyone who purchases the hogs or steers at the fair for re-sale to wire money to the fair’s bank account before the animals leave the fairgrounds.
FFA and 4-H members who showed hogs and steers at the fair in March should receive checks for the sale of their animals within the next two weeks.