By Sharla Ishmael
You’ve sold a bull to a new customer in a consignment sale and his check bounces. Or perhaps you’ve sold a trailerload of calves to a particular buyer before and had no problems, so you agreed to wait for payment until the calves are delivered. However, he has some excuse as to why he doesn’t have your check that day. And the excuses continue every time you call him: “The mail truck passed me by,” or “My wife is in the hospital.” What do you do?
Unfortunately, if you’re a seller these days, you are eventually going to run into a “buyer” who tries to take the animals without giving honest payment in return. With a weak economy and strong cattle prices, it’s a good bet that is happening now more than ever.
“I hate to say it, but my best advice is not to be so trusting,” says Larry Gray, executive director of law enforcement and theft prevention services at the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA). Gray has 29 special rangers stationed throughout Texas and Oklahoma who handle every kind of livestock theft case imaginable.
“Business just isn’t like it used to be,” he says. “Ranchers take pride in doing business on a handshake, but there are definitely individuals who will take advantage of you.”
If you do get a bad check, Gray says, you legally have to send the person a certified letter and give him 10 days to respond. If he doesn’t pay in that time, you go to your county district attorney (DA) and file a claim on him. However, if you agreed to deliver the cattle without getting your check first, you may have a more difficult time recovering your money—or cattle.
“If they flat-out won’t pay up, that can be considered theft,” Gray explains. “However, it’s up to the prosecutor. Some consider it a civil matter of extending credit if you let them take the cattle without payment. If they send a portion of what they owe and you accept it, then for sure it is a civil matter because you have extended credit.”
Either way, ranchers tend to be at the mercy of the district attorney. Gray says that in rural areas, where officials’ constituents are farmers and ranchers, these cases tend to be taken more seriously. However, if your district attorney’s office is in a larger, urban area, your chances of getting help are slimmer.
Legal retaliation. Heath Hyde is a Charolais breeder who also has a private law practice in Dallas,
Texas, where he was an assistant district attorney for 10 years. Hyde says many county offices are overloaded. But he doesn’t understand why more of them don’t take livestock cases more seriously, considering the amount of money that can be involved—particularly in the registered business.
“In the registered business, you may have sold one cow for $6,000,” he says. “You are protected somewhat by the fact that the buyer won’t get registration papers, which decreases the value of the property. But even then, they can take her to the sale barn and get some money for their crime.
“Threat of criminal action is usually the only way to get your money or your cattle back,” Hyde says. “Another thing is that once you start sending checks across state lines, it can be considered wire fraud, which is a felony.”
For example, Dennis Adams, owner of Outfront Cattle Services, a sale management company, tried to help a client get redress from a buyer that hadn’t paid for cattle bought in a production sale. The buyer wouldn’t return calls, but Adams talked to another unhappy seller who gave him the phone number of the buyer’s mother. So he called her.
She wasn’t happy to hear that charges could be filed against her son. But it took a call from Adams’ lawyer impressing upon her that jail time was a possibility to convince her to act on his behalf. This time, the cattle were returned.
- October 2010