From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 6, Number 17 - July 20, 2006
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Cattle case falls apart

by Cat Urbigkit

Neither message delivered at a meeting of local cattlemen in Pinedale Tuesday night was pleasant: the illegal import of 920 head of cattle from Utah wasn’t so illegal after all, because the Wyoming Livestock Board’s regulations making such schemes illegal were never adopted. And the state veterinarian believes local cattlemen who wanted prosecution of this case, yet sided with Jackson’s Glenn Taylor on an elk commingling issue, are a bunch of hypocrites.

The meeting was held at the county extension office and attended by about 30 area cattle producers, including those in the Green River Valley Cattlemen’s Association, Wyoming Stock Growers Association and Sublette County Farm Bureau.

State Veterinarian Dr. Dwayne Oldham said that it was recently determined that as the WLB regulations currently stand, there is not appropriate language to prosecute someone acting as a broker in illegally importing cattle into Wyoming. Under current regulations, only the truck drivers can be charged, not the person who conspired to have the illegal import occur. Although this gaping hole in the regulations was revealed to the state back in 2003, and WLB drafted changes to the regulations, the regulations were never finalized. But WLB Law Enforcement Officer Kim Clark’s handbook included the regulations that were proposed and never adopted, so he’s been writing citations and operating under the assumption that the regulations were actually in place for the last 18 months.

Sublette County Attorney Ralph Boynton said that after an exhaust ivereview of WLB regulations, he determined that the regulations officially on the books did not include an actionable item against the persons “who schemed and conspired and admitted to breaking the law” in arranging to have the cattle brought into the state without having been spayed or tested for brucellosis, and without proper health and import permits.

Conferring with state officials revealed that although changes had been proposed, “these rules have never been promulgated.”

Boynton said that Clark had conducted an intensive investigation and prepared an affidavit describing what the Utah cattle broker had told him. Boynton said that Clark’s investigation revealed the cattle broker, Maitland Webb, allegedly admitted that the cattle were too old to vaccinate and that he didn’t want to vaccinate them, that he didn’t want to undertake the expense of spaying the cattle, and that he “falsified the papers” to get the cattle through the Evanston port of entry.

Clark’s investigation also revealed, according to Boynton, that many of the truckers admitted, “We knew something wasn’t quite right.” Concerned, many of the truckers driving the 16 loads of cattle into Wyoming first allegedly called their trucking supervisor at LW Miller Trucking, Charles Webb (no relation to the cattle broker). Boynton said that Charles Webb reportedly told them to haul the loads anyway. Charles Webb allegedly drove one of the loads himself.

Boynton said although the truckers can all be charged in the case, there is nothing in the regulations that allows for either of the two Webbs to be charged for their roles.

“Maitland Webb is the guy who put the whole scheme together,” Boynton said, and Clark’s investigation revealed, “he knew it was contrary to law.”

Boynton said that the gap in the WLB regulations was revealed back in 2003 when Rudy Stanko was charged in a very similar case. The citations were for his importing cattle without health or import permits. Stanko was successful in getting the state’s lawsuit in the case dismissed because, as the court stated, “Nowhere in these cited rules ... are the words ‘caused to be imported’ or ‘knowingly cause to be imported’ ... ” Stanko argued that since he didn’t drive the cattle trucks, he couldn’t be charged. The court agreed, noting that while the regulations set forth duties of the livestock haulers/transporters, “the court cannot ascertain a clearly defined duty or prohibition regarding the defendant in these cases. Without that, the court is hard-pressed to ascertain criminal conduct or to ascribe a criminal penalty.”

In response to the Stanko case, the WLB proposed changes to the regulations, but personnel changes occurred as the process proceeded. Walt Cook came on board as the assistant state vet and he advised the WLB not to adopt the proposed regulations because they needed more work. The regulations have been on his desk for the last 18 months, being worked on.

Cook attended this week’s meeting, standing and telling the cattlemen, “If anyone’s to blame here in this room, it’s me.” He said when he came on board, the regulations were a mess, even with the proposed changes, so he advised the WLB not to adopt “half-assed” rules, but to go through them witha “fine-toothed comb” and clean them up. Cook did not know about the Stankocase, which was decided a year earlier.

Cook said he did not realize the urgency of the situation, and had proposed other changes to the rules to address other issues such as rabies and scrapie.

“I’m sorry this is the way it’s turned out,” Cook said.

Jim Magagna of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association said, “I find that incredible” that the rules would languish for 18 months.

Albert Sommers asked how many people have been cited and prosecuted under the false regulations, to which Clark responded, “None that didn’t need it,” which generated laughter.

Doug Vickrey said that it’s the WLB’s and the state vet’s job to safeguard the state’s livestock industry and they are “doing a goddamn poor job of it.”

Vickrey was appalled that the regulations could sit for so long without being finalized, suggesting that the state vet and WLB need to understand how important issues like brucellosis are to western Wyoming cattle producers and act accordingly. He suggested they take the issue “as seriously as those of us in this part of the state do.”

Boynton said he is now faced with the reality of being unable to charge either the cattle broker or the trucking supervisor who were involved in bringing the cattle into Wyoming, while being able to charge the truckers for their roles. Boynton said he hasn’t decided whether to charge the truckers or not, with Clark expressing some dissatisfaction with charging thelittle guys while the big one gets away. Most of the cattle producers who spoke at the meeting urged the truckers be prosecuted so that such shipments stop.

“It will be my decision and I have not made a decision,” Boynton said. “I certainly feel that the folks in this room are victims.”

Cook and Oldham reported that the proposed changes to the WLB regulations have been sent to the Wyoming Attorney General’s office for review, kicking off the process for eventual adoption. The rule changes probably won’t be finalized until December, so until then, it’s only truckers who would be subject to prosecution in illegal import cases.

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