5th Circuit Approves $2M Restitution in Cattle Fraud Lawsuit

The Fifth Circuit affirmed a Southern District of Texas decision on Wednesday, ruling that the $2 million restitution fine should be given to Stewart Kile Williams, who pled guilty to wire fraud after reportedly claiming to broker cattle deals, taking the money, and “disappearing the herd.” 

Wednesday’s opinion began with a question from the 1984 Wendy’s commercial, “Where’s the beef?” with the Fifth Circuit saying that is the question presented to them. Williams challenged the fees against him in the appellate court arguing that the United States, the plaintiff, had not determined which of the cattle he had sold and which he had stolen. 

According to the opinion, Williams brokered cattle, which were sold by Jones Alto Colorado Ranch and purchased by Wyatt Ranches of Texas for three years, he was given one third of the profits from Jones Ranch. After Wyatt Ranch claimed that it got defective cattle and told Williams it was done purchasing cattle, rather than alerting Jones Ranch the defendant “pretended to be Bradford Wyatt” and used a fake identity to purchase cattle from Jones Ranch and convinced the ranch to front the money to facilitate the sale. 

Eventually, Jones Ranch, noticing that the payments had not arrived, reached out to Wyatt Ranch and the two companies learned what Williams had been doing and got the defendant to confess after calling the fake number for Wyatt Ranch provided by Williams. Williams pled guilty to the four counts of wire fraud against him, but got the charge of aggravated identity theft dropped by waiving his right to appeal the criminal matter. 

Reportedly, at the restitution hearing when examining the losses they asked Williams to respond to the plaintiff’s evidence regarding what was an actual loss, but he explained that it was “almost impossible” to determine what was legitimate. The district court excluded two amounts proposed by the government, taking the rest which resulted in a restitution award of $2,066,525. 

The Fifth Circuit determined that the United States met its burden to demonstrate the loss caused by Williams’ actions and that the district court had not approximated amounts, but had thoroughly considered each line item and the testimony to determine the actual amount of loss. The defendant, however, only responded that he could not refute the evidence because he had not kept records to show “where the legal beef sales ended and the fraudulent ones began,” according to the judges. In response, the judges asserted “that won’t cut it.” 

The United States is represented by the Department of Justice and Williams is represented by the Federal Public Defender’s Office.