Dykstra's Farm

The sun rises over a family farm on Aug. 27, 2020.

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A federal judge sentenced a Bozeman man to two-and-a-half years in prison and to pay restitution for stealing and selling cattle and cattle embryos and defrauding a bank and a business partner.

Joshua James Chappa, 45, pleaded guilty in January to conversion of secured property and wire fraud. He was sentenced last week to prison and three years of supervised release by U.S. District Judge Dana L. Christensen and ordered to pay $450,993 in restitution.

Christensen allowed Chappa to self-report to prison.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan G. Weldon alleged Chappa stole cattle and embryos from his employer, sold cattle which he pledged as collateral on a loan and engaged in other deceptive practices that caused a loss of approximately $481,000.

Chappa was a ranch manager at Hayes Ranch LLC in Wilsall beginning in 2008 and ending in 2017, according to a Friday news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

In 2015, while still employed at Hayes, he formed Cold Smoke Cattle LLC. When the owners of Hayes Ranch were out of town, Chappa would steal cattle from the ranch and sell them, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office

Chappa also signed two security agreements in 2015 with Northwest Farm Credit Services PCA in Bozeman and pledged his cattle as collateral. He then sold those cattle that were pledged as collateral and defaulted on the loan.

Northwest Farm Credit Services is member of the Farm Credit System, a national banking system for agriculture businesses.

In a similar situation, Chappa entered a partnership with Nebraska cattle company Willers Mitten Brand and didn’t repay money owed after selling cattle involved in the agreement. After a sale at the Billings Livestock Commission in 2017, Chappa requested the $41,262 owed be paid to his company exclusively and did not split the proceeds with Willers Mitten Brand.

The case was investigated by the Montana Department of Livestock and the FBI.

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Melissa Loveridge can be reached at mloveridge@dailychronicle.com or at (406) 582-2651.

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