Embezzlement charges appear to fit pattern of conduct

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

Embezzlement charges against the owner of Portales Livestock Auction appear to fit a pattern of conduct leading to a shutdown of the facility more than a year ago.

Randy Bouldin is charged with embezzling more than $450,000 in December 2008, when prosecutors say he sold 1,000 head of cattle under a consignment arrangement, paid the owners with a bad check, then failed to make good on the money.

An affidavit filed in Roosevelt County Magistrate Court shows the owners of High Plains Dairy — John Swager of Portales, and Teo Albers Jr. of California — tried numerous times to collect the money owed them, even involving attorneys before they sought help from law enforcement.

Records show the incident that led to the charges occurred about six months after federal authorities began reviewing similar complaints against Bouldin.

Consenting to a preliminary injunction April 15, 2009, Portales Livestock Auction, Hereford Livestock Auction and their owner Bouldin, 39, were shut down by the USDA Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration for, “Serious violations of the Packers and Stockyards Act,” according to GIPSA.

A little less than two months later, Bouldin and his livestock auctions were suspended from the Packers and Stockyards Program for five years by Marc R. Hillson, chief administrative law judge with the USDA.

A decision filed by Hillson states Bouldin failed to maintain custodial accounts, failed to reimburse custodial accounts in a timely manner, misused custodial account funds and the proceeds of livestock sales and failed to remit the proceeds of those sales.

Hillson said the action was the result of two complaints filed in June 2008 by GIPSA, alleging Bouldin had willfully violated the Packers and Stockyards Act.

Under the act, registrants are required to maintain trust accounts for the money gained from livestock sales and are required to maintain a bond.

After one-year of suspension, Bouldin may request a modification of the order if he has made full payment to livestock sellers and consignors, Hillson’s decision states.

Bouldin’s attorney Wesley Pool has declined comment on the case and a phone listed in Bouldin’s name is not a working number.

Efforts to contact Swager and Albers were unsuccessful.

However, in a letter to the editor posted on the website dairybusiness.com, Swager and Albers described the situation they experienced with Bouldin, issuing a warning to dairymen.

Even though Bouldin’s auction was shut down in early April, they point to the fact he was still allowed, “to operate for a couple months, and have the opportunity to do damage to others.”

Having the auction shut down or Bouldin jailed, they stated in the letter, will probably never help them recoup their money. However tougher bonding, licensing and banking requirements enforced by federal agencies might have made the end result better for them.

“I guess we’ve learned that in these days especially, trust, verbal agreements, and even written ones, are only as good as the people you’re dealing with,” their letter said.

“Be careful who you deal with. Check with governing federal offices before you deal with sales yards.”

Familiar with the High Plains Dairy case, Walter Bradley, area government and business affairs director for Dairy Farmers of America, said situations like the one involving the Portales Livestock Auction stack one negative on top of another.

Bradley said the last year or more has been particularly trying for dairy farmers because of a downswing in milk prices.

To have a situation where the proceeds of that type sale are not received by the dairy owner can be a devastating double-blow because often they are already experiencing difficulties, especially in the recent economic environment.

Bradley said High Plains Dairy was participating in a national dairy program called Cooperatives Working Together.

CWT is funded by dairymen and allows dairy farmers to sell their herds to control overproduction and subsidizes the sale.

“Ordinarily it’s a situation where they’re in losses, so they cut their losses by selling out the herd and they’ll wait and come back a year later when things are hopefully better,” he said, explaining farmers sell milk and cattle then sit out a year of production.

Compounding problems caused for the individual, the loss of a local livestock auction causes other market issues in the industry, like lost jobs, lost competition and increased transportation costs to get cattle to auctions that are farther away.

“Now where you were maybe hauling your cattle 10 miles…you’ve got to haul 30-40 miles,” he said. “Transportation is not cheap.”

If convicted in the embezzlement case, Bouldin faces a maximum sentence of nine years.

Court records show magistrate Judge Jane Martin granted permission for Bouldin to relocate to Arizona for business, pending a jury trial in the case.

In September, Bouldin was placed on one-year of probation after pleading guilty to illegally exporting livestock.

He is also named as a defendant in 14 civil cases filed in state courts since 2008, court records show.