June 2, 2006
Fayette, Mo. — Attorney General Jay Nixon today filed criminal charges against five mid-Missouri residents, alleging they defrauded farmers in Missouri and other states by promising to sell high-quality cattle but instead delivering vastly inferior cattle after being paid more than $1 million.
The five defendants are associated with M.J.L. Cattle Co., a New Franklin business that Nixon is suing along with M.J.L. owner Mitchell J. Leonard, alleging they profited from the alleged scam.
“The quality of Missouri cattle is well-known, and our cattlemen have a reputation for being honest and trustworthy — so much so that Missouri cattle are often bought based on photos or even verbal descriptions by the seller,” Nixon said. “We believe the defendants took advantage of that reputation to foist sickly animals on buyers who were promised and paid for premium livestock.”
The defendants advertised high-quality cattle for sale in trade publications and on Web sites, Nixon said. They would allegedly supply photos or arrange in-person tours for potential buyers to view the cattle being sold, giving the impression that they were offering vital, healthy, well-fed and reasonably heavy cattle. The defendants also frequently asserted that the cows they were selling were pregnant, an important consideration for cattle ranchers due to herd management and future production issues.
Nixon alleges that after they were paid in full up front, the defendants would deliver cattle that were very often sicker, skinnier and of a different breed than promised. Many of the cattle delivered were also not pregnant as promised.
One farmer paid $150,000 for 150 cows that were reported as being four to six years of age and were scheduled to deliver calves within 60 days. The cows received by the consumer were mostly in excess of 10 years of age and most were not pregnant, Nixon said. Another farmer paid a $45,000 deposit for cattle that were never delivered; the refund check sent by one of the defendants bounced.
Nixon is alleging that, collectively, at least 11 victims paid more than $1 million for premium cattle but received cattle worth far less.
Arrest warrants in connection with the charges have been issued for:
“The sterling reputation of Missouri cattlemen is hard-earned and well-deserved,” said Brent Bryant, executive vice president of the Missouri Cattlemen's Association. “Missouri's cow herd is the second largest in the country, so it's important that this reputation be protected. We appreciate Attorney General Nixon's work on this.”
Criminal consumer fraud is a class D felony under Missouri law, punishable upon conviction by up to four years in prison and a $5,000 fine. As in all criminal cases, the charges against defendants are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent until or unless proven guilty in a court of law.
In his civil lawsuit filed in Howard County, Nixon is asking the court to order Mitchell Leonard and the other defendants to pay full restitution to all farmers who lost money as a result of the scheme. He also is asking for a permanent injunction to prevent them from further violations of Missouri law. The lawsuit also asks for appropriate civil penalties and for the costs of investigating and prosecuting the case.