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Iowa seeks punishment law for rustling

By Staff | Sep 21, 2014

DES MOINES (AP) – Iowa farm officials are seeking to enforce a mandatory minimum sentence for the felony theft of livestock and crops.

Delegates of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation met last week to discuss proper punishment for people who steal cattle, hogs, corn, soybeans and other farm property.

Some states, including Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Nebraska and North and South Dakota, are seeing an increase of cattle thefts since prices for the animals have reached record highs.

Experts said the problem could soon make its way to Iowa since the state is expected to raise more cattle in light of low corn prices and a drought in Texas, the leading producer of cattle in the U.S.

“The rise in cattle numbers, the rise in prices, you could definitely see a rise in cattle thefts,” said Corey Schultz, a region executive officer for the Livestock Marketing Association and works with livestock auctions in Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana.

Iowa is the top corn-producing state with nearly 2.2 billion bushels last year, and is ranked sixth nationally for cattle.

Novice thieves usually don’t steal livestock, according to Larry Gray, executive director of law enforcement for the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.

“Anyone can kick down the door to a house and steal a flat screen TV,” he said. “But to steal cattle – first you have to have the ability to transport those cattle. Then you have to have the knowledge to market the cattle.

“You can’t run down to the local pawn store and get some money for them.”

The recession has driven many farm-related thefts, and even though cattle theft isn’t a new problem, the high price of cattle makes them more attractive to thieves, according to Gray.

“Now, a 20-foot goose-neck trailer loaded with cattle can be worth upwards of $25,000,” he said.

Myron Ehresman, a farmer in rural northeast Iowa, had 18 cattle stolen from his farm last summer and was able to catch the thief with recently installed security cameras. Although the man stole about $30,000 in cattle, he was only fined $1,000 and wasn’t sentenced to jail time.

“If you don’t fear God or aren’t concerned about your good name, there’s not much to deter” thieves, Ehresman said.

Depending on the severity of the crime, livestock thieves in Iowa typically can face between 30 days to 10 years in prison, plus a fine between $200 and $10,000. Officials hope to eventually enforce stricter penalties, such as Texas’ mandatory third-degree felony carrying penalties of two to 10 years and a maximum fine of $10,000, and up to life in prison for more serious thefts carried out by habitual criminals.

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