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Friday, Apr. 29, 2016

One arrested, one sought in $1.3 million fraud case

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Jeremy Pierce, left waits as his attorney, Randall Miller (center), speaks with Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Tom Garner and Sheriff Mark Counts June 7 as they review the bond conditions set by Judge Mark Johnson. Pierce allegedly wrote over $120,000 in bad checks to the Ash Flat Livestock Auction. The Nix family looks on in the background. Photo/Tammy Curtis [Order this photo]
An Illinois man was extradited back to Sharp County June 4 by authorities to face charges of theft of property by deception, for allegedly writing over $120,000 in bad checks to the Ash Flat Livestock Auction.

Pierce Bond Hearing

Jeremy E. Pierce, 41, of Marion, Ill., appeared before Sharp County District Court Judge Mark Johnson seeking bond in the case. Pierce was represented by Attorney Randall Miller of Jonesboro.

Evidence in the hearing showed a company named Brookfield Cattle Company wrote two checks to the auction. The first on March 12, 2012 for $82,797.57, and the other for $38,797.51, on March 19, 2012. The affidavit for a warrant for arrest states representatives with the Ash Flat Livestock auction contacted Pierce on at least 10 different occasions in attempts to recover the cattle or the funds. Pierce assured them he was trying to get the matter taken care of but he later stopped cooperating.

A warrant was issued in the case, and United States Marshals arrested Pierce in Illinois, where he was held before being brought back to Sharp County to face the charges.

The Nix family, which owns the auction, was present for the bond hearing.

Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Tom Garner told the judge one of the checks was returned as "insufficient funds," and the other had a "stop payment" placed on it by the account holder.

Defense Attorney Miller told Judge Johnson his client had previously been in the military, and began the cattle company in 2009. He further explained to the judge this was the first time his client had been in Arkansas, and denied that Pierce had actually written the checks.

Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Tom Garner established Pierce fought extradition to Arkansas, and was brought to the county after Sharp County authorities obtained a Governor's warrant for him.

Pierce's attorney explained to the judge that Pierce was living in Marion, Ill., at the time he was arrested. Miller said, "Someone here wrote a check, unknown to him, for this amount, and took off with property that was supposed to be sold to pay for this check, so our position is that he is the victim in this case as well." Pierce's attorney added, "The company he (Pierce) was running is basically bankrupt -- because of the person he is in business with. He is in debt over $600,000."

Before Johnson set bail, Garner challenged Pierce's willingness to return to court, since he has no connections to Sharp County. "The number one factor is, his appearance here was not willful. He has no roots in the community. Without prejudging the defendant, we have had a difficult time getting to this point." Garner then asked the judge for a $121,692.48 cash-only bond, the amount of restitution owed the Nix family. "This is the most that we can seek by law. If he fails to appear in the case, the victims will be compensated," Garner said.

Defense attorney Miller responded the bond wasn't about restitution, but about insuring his client would appear in court. Miller explained his client has no criminal record and served in the military, in requesting a lower bond amount that was not a cash bond.

Garner rebutted Miller's request stating, " Miller has twice alleged that he was a veteran. This has nothing to do with this man's service to this country, but being a veteran does not excuse criminal activity."

Again, Miller maintained his client had nothing to do with the bad checks and had never been to Sharp County or Arkansas.

In the end, Johnson set a cash-only bond in the amount requested by the prosecution. The judge said, "There are numerous things that cause me concern in this case. He has fought extradition to come here, and has no contacts to Sharp County or relative history, so there are concerns about his ability to come back here. Based on these things, I am going to set him a bond at $121,692.48 cash-only."

In setting bond requirements, the judge ordered Pierce to surrender a passport if he had one.

Garner explained Ron Shepard, who is employed by Pierce, also owes the Nix family $1,350,000 for cattle he purchased and never paid for, and is believed to have left the country. He was reported missing just days prior to a federal parole revocation hearing in Illinois.

Pierce was remanded back to the custody of the Sharp County Detention Center, where he will remain until a June 26 hearing before Circuit Court Judge Harold Erwin.

Ron Shepard Sought

Following the hearing, the Nix family, representing the Ash Flat Livestock Auction, agreed to an interview about the cases.

The Nix family explained its auctions in Ash Flat and Batesville allow buyers to purchase cattle, and gives them a few days of turnaround time to pay for the cattle.

Melanie Billingsley explained her family has used a system of trust for years, and the family had befriended Shepard for the four years he bought cattle at the auction.

Since the bad checks were discovered, the family has also discovered Shepard served time in prison for fraud, and is currently on federal parole, which is in the process of being revoked. Shepard's past conviction was for wire fraud involving a scheme to purchase cattle without paying for them.

On March 27, Pierce told Marion, Ill. authorities that he was Shepard's boss, and called to inform them that he found Shepard's truck abandoned at the sale barn where he worked buying and selling cattle. The report indicates the truck was still running, with Shepard's cell phone inside. He has not been seen since March 26. Since a parole revocation hearing was approaching, it is feared that he fled the country.

Mary Ellen Nix explained the connection between Pierce and Shepard, stating banking records indicate Shepard does not possess a checking account, and Brookfield Cattle Company -- the one from which both checks were written -- was owned 99 percent by Pierce and one percent by Shepard's wife in Florida. She further explained a second company, from which Shepard wrote checks in the past to their auction, was Brookport Cattle Company, which is owned by Randy and John Linchez from Metropolis, Ill. She explained that, although the auction still received checks from the company, Pierce was no longer authorized to sign checks on the account. The Nix family believes others are involved in the large cattle scheme, which has ties to several states. Other investigations are underway in Florida, Texas, Oklahoma and Kentucky.

Stockyards throughout the country have been alerted to the scheme and are asked to be on the lookout for Shepard.

The Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA) announced May 22 it is offering a reward for information leading to Shepard's arrest. The announcement came after a three-count indictment was handed down against Shepard in Rains County, Texas on May 21. In that county, Shepard is charged with three counts of cattle theft, after he allegedly failed to make "prompt payment" on cattle purchased on three different dates at an East Texas sale barn.

Melanie Billingsley said, "He did good business with us for three years, brought his family to our house, and we got attached to his children." She added, "What can I say, we are trusting people."

Shepard owes the Ash Flat Livestock auction, $1.35 million, in addition to the checks written by the company that Peirce is facing charges on.

Sheriff Mark Counts indicated there are additional charges pending in Independence County against Pierce for a check that was written to the Batesville Stockyards, which is also owned by the Nix family. That bad check is for $35,479.

The Nix family stresses they continue to operate their livestock business, and hope Shepard will soon be apprehended. They want the public to know that their business has not suffered as a result of the losses. They explained they are fortunate to have loyal customers and look forward to serving the area's livestock needs for years to come.

Anyone with information regarding the whereabouts of Ron Shepard, is urged to contact the Sharp County Sheriff's Department at 870-994-7356.

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