Area man arrested in cattle theft case

Published: Saturday, January 31, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 31, 2004 at 12:11 a.m.


Under scrutiny

  • Ronald Shephard had been under investigation for about 3 years by the Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement and the FBI.

  • A Gilchrist County cattle broker has been arrested on what is being described as one of Florida's largest-ever livestock swindles.
    Ronald Shephard of Trenton is alleged to have skimmed as much as $1 million from the Tennessee cattle company for which he was working.
    Shephard, 28, had a contract with Tennessee Dressed Beef to buy cattle in Florida, Georgia and Alabama and then sell the cows in other parts of the country. He is accused of keeping some of the sales proceeds and stealing cattle, according to information released by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Friday.
    "In this business, buyers, sellers and companies that employ them have to rely on the integrity of the individuals involved, and this case represents a major departure from that," Agriculture Secretary Charles Bronson said in a prepared release.
    Shephard had been under investigation for about 3 years by the Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement and the FBI.
    "White collar cases are not normally your slam, bang cases," said Lou Leinhauser with the Department of Agriculture of the lengthy investigation. "A lot of it is tracking down victims and being able to corroborate it with documents."
    Richard Hall, the president of Nashville-based Tennessee Dressed Beef, alerted the Gilchrist County Sheriff's Office to the possible fraud scheme in May 2000.
    Hall, contacted through his new business, Mississippi Beef Processors, which is building a plant in Oakland, Miss., said the loss contributed to the demise of the company founded by his father.
    "It was a pretty hard hit. It's been a challenge to overcome a loss like that," Hall said. "You just try to continue the rest of your operations."
    The theft occurred during a four- to six-month period, Hall said. Shephard had only worked for Tennessee Dressed Beef for a short time.
    During the investigation, law enforcement officials say they also uncovered a second scam. Shephard was arrested in March for falsifying animal health certificates on more than 11,000 cows so he could ship them out of state without having a veterinarian examine them.
    Shephard had bought several books of blank health certificates to aid him in his cause, agriculture officials said.
    He is awaiting trial in that case, which could bring up to 35 years in prison and fines of $35,000.
    On the most recent charges, Shephard, who was taken to U.S. District Court in Gainesville for first appearance Thursday, was released on a $25,000 bond, according to the U.S. Attorneys Office in Tallahassee.
    His trial is scheduled for March 8. District Court Judge Stephan Mickle will hear the case. Shephard is charged with 13 counts of wire fraud, which could carry up to 65 years in prison.
    Janine Young Sikes can be reached at 337-0327 or sikesj@gvillesun.com.

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