Family, fraud, and a ‘Ghost Herd:’ How Cody Easterday executed one of the largest cattle swindles in American history

News January 31, 2023
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What began as a success story turned into fraud and one of the largest cattle swindles of all time. Washington state’s Easterday family had a few hundred farmland acres that they shaped into a multi-million dollar farming and ranching enterprise. When the truth was revealed, their empire toppled. “Ghost Herd” shares the family’s story, fraud, land, and hunger for power in western America.

In “Ghost Herd,” award-winning journalist Anna King investigates Cody Easterday’s story, the man responsible for one of America’s greatest cattle swindles. Easterday’s cattle herd did not exist – he fabricated a “ghost herd” of 265,000 cattle and conned companies. His swindles tricked a meat-packing company out of almost one billion dollars among other fraud.

Stream the podcast from the beginning to hear King’s thorough research that she started uncovering in 2021. Episode 1 shares the Easterdays’ history, presence in southeast Washington state’s Columbia Basin, and how they earned their “ranching royalty” status. This family managed to hide a secret for years, as seen in spreadsheets and invoices that revealed what was happening inside their business operations.

The second episode shares the lengths Easterday took to execute the swindle from start to finish. By the third episode, we learned how Easterday’s swindle was “an even-bigger gambling habit on the futures market” that could have altered American beef prices. During COVID-19, a huge meat company learned the truth behind the cattle swindle, and the fallout is detailed in episode 4.

The Easterday empire started falling apart at the seams as they put farmland on the market, and billionaires waited to swoop in. A bidding war ensued for the valuable, water-rich lands, and this demonstrated how country currently farms. The fifth episode shares how his sons are taking over the family business, what happened when Cody tried to stand up to a federal judge, and how his community responded to the ordeal.

Tune in weekly for new episodes for “Ghost Herd” wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.

Listen to ‘Ghost Herd’

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