From Wyoming to Vero: Modern-day cattle rustler living in McAnsh Park?

Progressive Farmer image by Anthony John Coletti

Vero’s historic McAnsh Park neighborhood probably isn’t the first place lawmen would look for a fugitive cattle rustler, but maybe that’s what made it the perfect place for Scott Eric Smith to reside.

On the run from a Wyoming felony warrant for cattle rustling, forgery and theft, Smith now is facing serious charges here as well for allegedly selling hundreds of Indian River cattle he didn’t own at a livestock market in Okeechobee, and pocketing more than a quarter-million dollars in proceeds.

The 50-year-old’s troubles here started with a traffic stop one year ago.

On Oct. 27, 2020, an Indian River County Sheriff’s Deputy pulled Smith over after observing his Dodge pickup truck veering from its lane on Route 60. According to police reports, the driver – who carried no identification – initially gave lawmen a false name.

When the deputy ran Smith’s real identity through an Idaho database, the check found that Smith did not have a driver’s license – and also returned an arrest warrant from Wyoming.

Smith was placed under arrest for “giving a false name while detained” and transported to the Indian River County jail.

The Sheriff’s office then verified the open warrant from Wyoming, and found out that Smith had been convicted of a felony in Pamona, California, in 2013.

Smith also had a Mossberg 4X4 rifle in the pickup truck. “Mr. Smith advised that he placed the rifle in the truck to shoot coyotes,” the deputy reported, but under Florida law possession of a weapon by a felon is a first-degree felony. So Smith was jailed with no bond.

The next day, Smith’s other alleged activities here as a modern-day cattle-rustler – while working as a ranch manager – began to come to light.

The Sheriff’s Office got a call from Leo Gibson, general counsel for Bhakta Farms, a 600-acre ranch located six miles west of Interstate 95 on State Road 60. Gibson called to say he’d found out that Smith had been stealing cattle from the ranch.

The Sheriff’s Office made contact with a detective in Okeechobee County, who had receipts for five different sales of cattle through the Okeechobee Livestock Market July through October 2020.

On July 26, 26 cattle were sold for $12,625.16, the receipts showed. Then on July 28, 18 cattle were sold for $9,948.29. On Aug. 17, eight bulls were sold for $10,311.43. On Sept. 8, 15 cattle were sold for $9,565.51 and finally on Oct. 5, 10 cows were sold for $4,919.10 – a total of more than $47,000.

Smith’s warrant affidavit says he hired the same Okeechobee woman, Leeann White, each time to pick up the cattle from Bhakta Farms and haul them to the Okeechobee Livestock Market.

“Mrs. White also stated that Scott Smith was present on each date and advised her to sell the cattle under his business name Smith Livestock Services,” the affidavit states.

Bhakta Farms’ Finance Manager Toni Leake verified that Bhakta Farms never received payment for the cattle.

On Nov. 5, 2020, Smith was charged in Indian River County with first-degree felony larceny of more than $20,000 but less than $100,000.

But there’s more. Police reports say on Aug. 8, 2020, Smith sold $279,327 worth of cattle through the Okeechobee Livestock Market, which issued a Centerstate Bank check for the sale price to Bhakta Farms.

But two months later, the livestock market noticed that the check had not cleared the bank, so they contacted Smith, who said “it was probably on someone’s desk, that the company had so much money, the check isn’t that important to them.”

Bhakta Farms owns businesses in France near Bordeaux where it has an 18th century chateau and an Armagnac spirits distillery, and in Shoreham, Vermont, where the company distills WhistlePig Rye Whiskey on a 500-plus acre farm.

Police reports say Smith told Todd Clemons from the livestock market that the check issued to Bhakta Farms “has either been lost or misplaced.”

“Then Scott Smith asked them to re-issue the check. But this time Scott Smith asks them to write the check payable to Smith Livestock Services,” police reports show.

Clemons drew up an agreement with Smith on Oct. 12, 2020, stating that the original check would be canceled, and that Smith represents Bhakta Farms “and has absolute authority over the cattle operation of Bhakta Farms.”

On Oct. 13, the livestock market issued a replacement check for $279,292.00 payable to Smith Livestock Services and that same day, Smith presented the check at Centerstate Bank and exchanged it for a cashier’s check.

The original check payable to Bhakta Farms, however, was not canceled but was deposited the same day to the farm’s JP Morgan Chase account, leaving Okeechobee Livestock Market – which paid both checks – with a loss of more than a quarter-million dollars.

Smith was subsequently charged in Okeechobee County with first-degree felony larceny of $100,000 or more, and is being held for trial there.

Two weeks ago, the Okeechobee Livestock Market petitioned the court as a victim, for the release of assets being held or frozen by the Indian River and St. Lucie Sheriff’s offices as evidence in the cases against Smith.

The market says Smith used the proceeds of the August 2020 fraudulent sale to purchase a 2016 gray Chevy Corvette on Oct. 13, 2020 for $60,670.05, and a 2021 Chevy Tahoe the same day for $86,682.06.

Smith, who has pleaded not guilty to the charges lodged against him, applied for indigent status and was approved for public defender representation in February, but in September he hired a private attorney based in Lantana to represent him in this multi-jurisdictional case.

Court records show that Wyoming also is interested in extraditing Smith for prosecution there.

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