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Cattle theft report draws attention from state crime unit
Pawnee County Sheriff Scott King
Pawnee County Sheriff Scott King

LARNED — Arrests are anticipated by the Pawnee County Sheriff’s Office Friday, as part of an ongoing cooperative investigation with the state Livestock/Brand Investigation Unit, Pawnee County Sheriff Scott King said Thursday afternoon.

The multi-agency, multi-county investigation picked up speed this week after a suspicious cattle transaction was first reported early last December.

“We’ve accelerated our schedule,” King noted. “We were able to move faster by working together.”

The state unit (a joint effort between the Department of Agriculture and Attorney General’s Office) was alerted Dec. 10, 2021, after officials at La Crosse Livestock Market reported suspicious activity. According to the report, an individual brought a load of cattle in for sale on Dec. 9, then bought them back the next day. 

The state authorities then requested PCSO take the lead on the investigation on Dec. 12, King said. A state investigator was then tasked to work in tandem with PCSO officers as the investigation progressed.

On Thursday morning, King said he would meet with the special investigator all day. Arrest warrants are likely to be generated and served sometime Friday, King said.

The investigation continues, the sheriff said.

Cattle rustling in modern world

To most, the words “cattle rustling” conjure up visions of black-hatted cowboys driving herds of steers across the Plains, with white-hatted lawmen outfitted with long guns and badges in pursuit.

Cattle theft still occurs today, although it differs greatly from the Hollywood version. Far from their gunslinging origins, today’s thieves are mounting financial scams to bilk banks and businesses, as well as running gooseneck trailers to sale barns from local fields and feedlots for profits in the millions of dollars. In Kansas, the special unit exists to increase local law enforcement’s efforts to combat cattle theft. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt formed the Livestock/Brand Investigation Unit in 2014 within the AG office’s consumer protection division, in cooperation with the Kansas Department of Agriculture. The move combined law enforcement authority with the Agriculture Department’s livestock identification resources to better protect Kansas ranchers.

Kendal Lothman, with nearly 30 years of law enforcement experience, was picked to head the initial unit. Lothman later resigned the office, to serve successive terms as Sheriff of Kiowa County.

The pandemic hasn’t slowed down cattle thieves, King said. While reports of cattle out are considered a normal part of King’s territory, he is looking at them with a suspicious eye due to their proximity to a possible theft.

“At first glance, a cattle-out report looks pretty tame,” King said. “But as we become more experienced with how rustlers operate, we are starting to be more critical with how we look at a report.”

King said that savvy rustlers scope out easy access points to cattle in the field and may try to lure them with feed, cow cake or hay. “We have found dog prints, and have asked owners about their dogs, because rustlers are using them,” King said. 

Other discovered items, such as cigarettes, empty bottles or wrappers could be utilized in collecting samples for a DNA match.

“We are telling our ranchers to take note of anything suspicious,” King said. “Even a little thing might mean something bigger later on.”