An Iowa corporation and four of its high-level managers have been sentenced in federal court after law enforcement uncovered a wide-ranging scheme to defraud that victimized livestock producers throughout the Midwest, caused over $3 million in loss, and spanned nearly two decades.
Lynch Family Companies, Inc., of Waucoma, Iowa, also known as “Lynch Livestock,” pled guilty on July 29, 2022, to one count of Failing to Comply with an Order of the Secretary of Agriculture. On February 10, 2023, Lynch Livestock was sentenced to five years of probation, fined $196,000, and ordered to pay over $3 million in restitution to livestock producers and farmers.
Billie Joe Wickham, age 51, of Waucoma, Iowa, pled guilty on July 15, 2022, to one count of Conspiracy to Defraud the United States. On January 13, 2023, Wickham was sentenced to six months of imprisonment and fined $3,000. Wickham must also serve a three-year term of supervised release after the prison term. There is no parole in the federal system.
Charlie Lynch, age 65, of Fort Atkinson, Iowa, pled guilty on July 25, 2022, to one count of Conspiracy to Defraud the United States. On January 13, 2023, Lynch was sentenced to five years of probation and fined $3,000.
Leland “Pete” Blue, age 60, of Fredericksburg, Iowa, pled guilty on July 28, 2022, to one count of Conspiracy to Defraud the United States. On January 13, 2023, Blue was sentenced to five years of probation and fined $1,000.
Tyler Thoms, age 31, of Fayette, Iowa, pled guilty on August 9, 2022, to one count of Causing a Livestock Dealer to Keep Inaccurate Accounts and Records. On January 13, 2023, Thoms was sentenced to one year of probation.
In its plea agreement, Lynch Livestock admitted that it was registered with the Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) as a dealer under the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921 (“the Act”). Lynch Livestock operated buying stations in the Northern District of Iowa and elsewhere. Lynch Livestock bought swine from livestock producers and sellers at these stations, and the prices Lynch Livestock paid was based on the numbers, classifications, and weights of the swine.
Beginning in about the early 2000s, and continuing through at least late March 2017, Lynch Livestock’s second-ranking official directed other managers and employees to falsely reduce and downgrade the numbers, quality classifications, and weights of swine that producers and sellers had delivered to Lynch Livestock’s buying stations throughout the Midwest, including but not limited to stations in the Northern District of Iowa. These practices largely concerned large, corporate swine producers who brought their swine for sale to Lynch Livestock. To effectuate the fraud, managers at Lynch Livestock’s headquarters created false and fraudulent scale tickets bearing the initials of the managers at the buying stations. By falsifying the producers’ accounts of purchase, Lynch Livestock and its managers created false and fraudulent invoices to pay less than what was due and owing to those producers. Lynch Livestock managers and employees then routinely shredded and burned evidence of the fraud and document destruction was a routine practice of the company and a specific response when it was anticipated that USDA officials were investigating the company’s practices.
In late 2017, Lynch Livestock and the USDA entered an administrative consent decision under the Act in which Lynch Livestock agreed to pay nearly $800,000 in restitution to two of its corporate customers on account of fraud committed at two Iowa buying stations. In its plea agreement, Lynch Livestock agreed the amount of loss from the fraudulent conduct prior to 2018 was greater and not isolated to the two corporate customers or two buying stations.
Between about 2018 and March 2021, Lynch Livestock’s managers and employees used a crowbar or other similar object to manipulate the scales on which livestock producers’ swine was weighed at its buying stations. As a result, Lynch Livestock created, kept, and provided to livestock producers scale tickets that contained false information because they understated the actual weight of the swine. Consequently, Lynch Livestock paid livestock producers less than what was owed and violated the 2017 consent decision with the USDA. In 2021, Lynch Livestock and the USDA entered a second administrative consent decision. Lynch Livestock agreed to pay over $400,000 in restitution to various farmers and producers.
Evidence at various hearings in the cases established that Wickham reported directly to the second-ranking official and participated in the fraud for over fifteen years. Wickham also had a leadership role in the conspiracy, directing other employees to stamp fraudulent scale tickets and to manipulate the sorting of swine to lower the values for producers. Charlie Lynch was involved in sow procurement and marketing for Lynch Livestock and, from no later than 2013 until about 2017, reduced classifications on sows that producers sold to Lynch Livestock. Blue managed Lynch Livestock’s sow inventory and, no later than 2012, joined the scheme. Thoms initially worked as a bookkeeper in Lynch Livestock’s headquarters building with Wickham, Lynch, and Blue and then, from about 2018 to early 2021, managed Lynch Livestock’s buying station at Waucoma, Iowa. While working in the headquarters building as a bookkeeper, Thoms participated in forging scale tickets and then, as a manager, used a crowbar to lift up on a scale to cheat producers.
The defendants were sentenced in Cedar Rapids by United States District Court Judge C.J. Williams. Wickham was released on the bond previously set and is to surrender to the Bureau of Prisons on a date yet to be set. During the various sentencing hearings, Judge Williams referred to Lynch Livestock’s fraud scheme as “a systematic method of cheating and stealing” from livestock producers and sellers and noted “the nature of the fraud [was] to rip off people little by little, day by day.” Lynch Livestock cooperated with the government’s criminal investigation and has agreed to various compliance measures as a part of its plea agreement.
In its plea agreement, Lynch Livestock agreed to pay over $3 million in restitution with credit for approximately $1.2 million that Lynch Livestock has already paid because of the 2017 and 2021 USDA consent decisions. With respect to the $1.8 million in new restitution that will be available for livestock producers and sellers, Judge Williams indicated further proceedings will be scheduled to allocate the restitution among Lynch Livestock’s victims.
United States Attorney Timothy Duax stated, “Lynch Livestock and its managers defrauded livestock producers throughout the Midwest for nearly two decades. These prosecutions help restore the victims by requiring Lynch Livestock to pay 3 million dollars in restitution and make clear that our office is committed to rooting out agriculture fraud in this state.”
The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Timothy L. Vavricek and Matthew J. Cole and investigated by the United States Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Court file information at https://ecf.iand.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/login.pl
The case file numbers are 21-CR-2074 (Wickham and Lynch), 21-CR-2042 (Blue), 22-CR-2043 (Lynch Family Companies, Inc.), and 22-CR-2044 (Thoms).