SD man arrested for stealing 29 heifers in Moody County
A South Dakota man is again behind bars, this time for stealing 29 head of heifers from a Moody County, S.D., feedyard and selling them at Mitchell Livestock Auction.
According to a press release from Moody County Sheriff’s Office, Joshua Nygaard was arrested March 27 for allegedly stealing 29 feeder heifers from John Geraets on Feb. 7. As of March 28, he was being held at the Moody County Jail on $10,000 cash bond, and a detainer issued by the Department of Corrections.
He allegedly used a trailer that had been left at A Bar K Trailer Sales in Sioux Falls to steal the cattle. When the customer left the trailer to be repaired, it was clean. The next morning it was apparent the trailer had been used to haul cattle during the night.
The cattle that were stolen had been yarded about a quarter of a mile from John Geraets’ place. They were owned by Geraets Brothers. John Geraets said he didn’t know Nygaard personally, but knew he had been in the area.
“My assumption is that he used Google maps and found a place with cattle that didn’t have a house, or just drove around until he saw someplace that he could steal from,” Geraets said.
It appeared that Nygaard visited the place twice, first to pen the cattle, then, returning with the trailer, he loaded them and hauled them to the salebarn.
Geraets reported the theft the next morning, and called Mitchell Livestock Auction to ask them to be on the lookout for the missing heifers.
“That was the first place we called,” Geraets said. Geraets’ uncle lives near Mitchell and offered to go to the sale that day. “But we didn’t think anyone would steal them and sell them the next day.”
Some of the heifers had ear tags and some were ear-notched, but none were branded. Brands are not required east of the Missouri River in South Dakota, and livestock markets don’t require proof of ownership.
Don Stange, part owner of Mitchell Livestock Auction, verified that they were aware of the missing cattle ahead of the sale, but didn’t catch them until after they’d been sold.
“We did a little follow-up ourselves, checked on a few things and figured we’d better call the law enforcement,” Stange said.
The ear tags were still intact, and they came in as a group of 29 black and red feeder heifers, fitting the description given by Geraets. The livestock auction sorted six head off the bottom and sold them in two groups.
“If people call us, we watch out for cattle coming through, but you can’t help everybody. If you think something’s wrong, you try to help the farmer out,” he said.
Geraets said a week or 10 days after the theft he was told who was suspected of stealing the cattle and had gone to the buyer’s place and identified the cattle.
“He (Nygaard) admitted to selling the cattle and cashing the check, but not to stealing them,” Geraets said.
A press release from the Moody County Sheriff’s Office said Nygaard is being charged with grand theft, a class-four felony, which carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine, plus one count of third degree burglary, which has a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. It also emphasized that Nygaard is innocent until proven guilty.
Nygaard has used this technique before. According to a press release from the Union County State’s Attorney, on Nov. 8, 2013, Nygaard stole about $12,000 worth of pigs from Sun Terra Farms in Union County, S.D. He used a stolen trailer and sold the pigs the same day at Sioux Center, Iowa. He was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison for grand theft, and was ordered to pay more than $12,000 in restitution. He was on parole when he allegedly stole the cattle in Moody County. According to the press release, Nygaard has at least four previous felony convictions on his record.
Geraets said he doesn’t know whether he’ll be able to get any of the money for the heifers back. He won’t get the heifers back because they’re feeder cattle and they were sold legally by the auction barn. Any restitution he may see will come as a judgment against Nygaard.
East of the Missouri River, where brand inspections are not required, livestock can be identified by other methods, such as DNA, said Debbie Trapp, director of the South Dakota Brand Board. In order for DNA to work as legal proof, there has to be a reference animal in the owner’s possession to compare the DNA to — like the dam, in the case of a dispute over ownership of calves.
Brands are legal proof of ownership state-wide, but inspection is not required for sale east of the Missouri. “Just because brand inspections aren’t required, doesn’t mean they might not be branded,” Trapp said.
Bill Hutchinson, chairman of the South Dakota Stockgrowers brand committee, said this is one more argument for a statewide brand inspection. “If that had happened West River and they were branded and the person bringing them didn’t have clearance, the proceeds would have been held for proof of ownership.”
Geraets said he doesn’t think it’s necessary to change the brand system, that the expense would outweigh the benefits. “I feel like there might be future or current technology that would be better than branding, but that all comes at an expense too.”
The South Dakota legislature passed SB 156 this year, which says, “If requested, the board may inspect livestock in this state located outside the livestock ownership inspection area.” That means owners, buyers or law enforcement east of the Missouri River can request a livestock inspection. It does not mandate inspections or brands, but does give the brand board the ability to respond if an inspection is requested. The brand board can also decide not to respond to a request, for instance if no inspector is available.
“It was an agreement that if they can, they will do everything they can to provide the service,” said Silvia Christen, executive director of the South Dakota Stockgrowers, who helped draft the legislation.
“It has raised awareness with sheriffs about inspection program, what services are available and what the laws are. Hopefully it will help producers – if they have concerns or something isn’t quite right, they can call an inspector. I think it will make a difference in terms of awareness that there is theft prevention available,” she said. F