A Huddleston man was sentenced to two years in prison April 23 for the theft of about 300 cattle from a Bedford County farmer.
Brian William Bays, 35, pleaded guilty in December to grand larceny of the cattle he was contracted to help raise. At the time, attorneys involved in the case said the amount Bays would owe farmer Troy Rice for his cattle still was disputed.
Lawyers continued that argument April 23.
At Bays’ sentencing hearing in Bedford Circuit Court, Rice asked for more than $400,000 in restitution from Bays, considering his out-of-pocket expenses for the lost cattle, lost profits and the costs of raising those lost cattle. He said the theft made a “significant economic impact” on his business, but it managed to stay afloat.
“I don’t know many businesses, let alone farming [businesses] … that could survive that,” he said. “It has been very, very rough.”
Rice, 55, also owns a commercial janitorial firm.
Before going to law enforcement about the missing cattle, Rice said he tried to talk to Bays’ father and cattle market managers to request reimbursement or have the cattle returned.
He said it’s “kind of a shame” that Bays is bearing the brunt of the theft, since he believes Bays had help in selling many truckloads of his cattle.
Rice said he’s concerned about the message it would send if such a farming-related crime went under-punished.
“Everything that we [farmers] do is based on people’s words … and your reputation,” he said.
Mark Arthur, the defense attorney representing Bays, questioned Rice extensively about the number of cattle his client stole and the amount Rice believes Bays owe him. He pointed out Rice had come up with other numbers when calculating what he lost and established there’s a “spread of values” for the different heads of cattle depending on a number of factors.
At several junctures, Bedford Circuit Court Judge James Updike likened the procedure to a divorce hearing, emphasizing he needed to have a clear picture of the restitution demands. He ultimately ordered partial restitution of $162,650 — in between what the defense and prosecution felt appropriate — to be paid by installments of at least $500 per month after Bays’ incarceration ends.
Arthur pointed out criminal restitution in a case like this is “direct loss” from the larceny. Any other expenses and financial consequences from the larceny will need to be sorted out in a civil case.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Wes Nance said his office might have been able to press more than one charge against Bays if he could narrow down specific instances when the thefts occurred — otherwise Bays’ actions would fall under what’s known as single larceny doctrine, where one act of stealing multiple items constitutes a single charge of larceny. After the hearing, he said the amount of money involved in the case likely ranked in the top 10 for larcenies in Bedford County.
He asked for Bays to be sentenced to five years in prison suspended after a year and a half of active time, above sentencing guidelines that suggested anywhere from one day to six months in jail based on Bays’ history and the crime.
Updike went well above that, sentencing Bays to 10 years in prison suspended after two years of active time. He said Bays could have been charged with one count of larceny for every head he sold without permission.
Updike said some people might consider theft on a similar scale if restitution was the only punishment and think, “you know what, it’s almost worth it.” At one point during the April 23 proceedings, he said he prosecuted a cattle-rustling case when he was Bedford County commonwealth’s attorney in which restitution ordered wasn’t paid.
Rice said from the witness stand that he hired Bays in December 2016 to raise his cattle at Bays’ barn. Bays would bid for the cattle, Rice would pay for them and Bays would raise them to gain weight for slaughter — but Rice said Bays didn’t have his permission to sell them.
As part of his payment to Bays, Rice said he’d purchase some cattle for Bays as well. At one point, he helped weigh and send off 116 head of cattle out of 501 he bought, Rice said.
In the fall of 2017, Rice said he learned more than 100 of his cattle had been sold off under the name of Bays’ romantic partner, and said he never saw the proceeds from the sales.
Arthur characterized Bays’ theft as an inappropriate response to a business relationship that had started falling apart.
He said Bays has been trying to earn money to pay Rice back and presented a bag of what he said was $40,000 toward restitution costs in court. Thirteen pieces of equipment prosecutors say Bays bought with the money he made off the cattle were seized in February as civil asset forfeiture.
Once released, Bays will be on supervised probation for five years. He has until May 9 to report to jail for his sentence.