LIHU‘E — A cattle company owned by a billionaire Idaho businessman is suing a former Kaua‘i ranch employee for allegedly stealing nearly 200 cows and having them slaughtered without authorization.
Anthony Pukina Silva appeared in Fifth Circuit Court before Judge Kathleen Watanabe on Tuesday, Dec. 5, for the civil court case, which accuses him of leading a large-scale cow theft scheme while employed as ranch manager for Hawai‘i Ranches, LLC in 2020 and 2021.
Silva is the only individual named in court documents that report him as having “maliciously conspired” with several others in the alleged plot to steal nearly 200 cattle and ranch assets with a total value of nearly $200,000.
The complaint, filed by Paul Alston and John-Anderson Meyer, attorneys for plaintiff “Hawai‘i Ranches, LLC” detailed the allegations in a court document dated Dec. 28, 2021.
The document does not disclose any individuals associated with Hawai‘i Ranches, LLC, but according to public information, the LLC — which was incorporated in April 2020 — has an Idaho address that is the same as the address for the Frank VanderSloot Foundation Inc.
Frank VanderSloot, the CEO of “the wellness company” Melaleuca, is a billionaire businessman who was titled “Idaho’s richest person” by Forbes in 2017. VanderSloot has been controlling Hawai‘i’s largest slaughterhouses since 2019, according to a June 2023 report from Honolulu Civil Beat.
In May 2022, KITV reported Vandersloot had purchased 2,000 acres of Kaua‘i property for cattle for $51.2 million.
Cattle ‘in the mountain’
The complaint starts by noting that in January 2020, Hawai‘i Ranches, LLC spent more than $1 million on cattle, purchasing 1,102 cattle for $920 each for slaughter and profit.
Silva, a longtime cattle rancher who was born and raised on Kaua‘i, was employed as the ranch manager for all 1,102 cattle, which were kept on two separate leased ranch properties — the Makao Ranch, located at Grove Farm in Hanamaulu, and the Midler Ranch, located on Kapa‘a Bypass Road.
In late 2020, VanderSloot’s Hawai‘i Ranches requested a “hard count” of the cattle be conducted. At that time, Silva allegedly reported that 84 of the cattle were missing.
When asked by his supervisor Tom Lappe to locate the missing cattle, Silva reportedly said there was nothing to be concerned about because the cattle “were running loose up the mountain,” providing no other explanation. Silva did not attempt to find any of the missing cattle that were supposedly “in the mountain,” the document states.
When Hawai‘i Ranches requested a second hard count in September 2021, Silva reported that an additional 28 cows had gone missing, bringing the total number up to 112. Silva once again repeated that the cattle were “running loose up the mountain,” according to the complaint.
“Despite requests, Mr. Silva never brought any of the cattle back to the herd.”
Silva was then fired by Hawai‘i Ranches on Sept. 29, 2021. Following Silva’s termination, Hawai‘i Ranches conducted a third hard count on both the Makoa and Midler Ranches in October 2021, less than six weeks after the previous count. That count revealed that an additional 82 cows were missing, bringing the total to 194.
Hawai‘i Ranches then alleges discovering Silva had been instructing other employees to take their cows to be slaughtered at Sanchez Slaughterhouse in Kapa‘a, without their knowledge.
“At no time did (the) plaintiff authorize sending any of its cattle for sale or slaughter at Sanchez Slaughterhouse, or at any commercial or private facility on the island of Kaua‘i,” the document states.
The document also alleges that Silva had been stealing cows from their corral during the night, saying that employees reported seeing several cows in the corral at the end of the day, but then finding they were not there upon their return to work the next morning. When asked about why there were no cows in the corral, Silva allegedly responded that the cows “must have gotten out.”
According to the complaint, the fair market value for the 194 missing cows is $178,480.
Silva is also accused of stealing a list of items named “missing ranch personal property,” including fence posts, horse stall mats and livestock fencing. The total value of those items was valued at $8,843.
According to the document, Lappe and a private investigator hired by Hawai‘i Ranches found the “missing ranch personal property” on a Puhi Road property,
Attorneys for Hawai‘i Ranches reported in the document they don’t currently know the identities of the other defendants who conspired with Silva in the scheme, identifying them as John and Jane Does or “Doe Entities.”
Silva and Doe Entities are being charged on counts of conversion of cattle, theft of cattle, conspiracy to commit conversion and/or theft of cattle, conversion of ranch assets, theft of non-livestock ranch assets, conspiracy to commit conversion and/or theft of non-livestock ranch asset, as well as unfair methods of competition for allegedly undermining Hawai‘i Ranches position in the cattle market.
Hawai‘i Ranches is seeking relief for general, special and punitive damages for the value of the missing cattle and ranch assets. The document states the amount would be proven at the time of trial.
Appearing in court on Tuesday for a scheduling conference to set a date for trial, Hawai‘i Ranches’ attorney Meyer said “discovery is still ongoing” in the case.
Meyers, who appeared through Zoom, estimated that 10 to 12 days would be needed for a jury trial. He also said he planned to bring at least five witnesses forward as sources of evidence.
Meanwhile, Silva told Watanabe that he had not yet decided if he would hire a lawyer.
“I’m probably going to have to go get a loan to do this and everything,” said Silva, adding he only just got a copy of his deposition on Monday due to a mailing mistake by the court reporter.
Silva was first involved as a witness in the missing cattle controversy before becoming a named defendant.
Silva claimed in court that he accidentally deleted the document after unknowingly receiving it via email, noting that the court reporter had never sent him a promised paper copy of the document.
“I have been patiently waiting for this to come in the mail, so I can review it,” he said.
Silva requested that the scheduling conference be postponed for at least 30 days to give him time to review the document.
Watanabe permitted Silva’s request, but advised him to hire an attorney.
“I think it’s very important that you take a look at the deposition. Seriously consider hiring an attorney for this,” she said.
“If you move forward representing yourself in this matter, you’re going to be expected to understand the rules of the court, the rules of evidence, and you’re going to be up against a licensed attorney who has experience in litigation cases. So serious matters here, serious consequences.”
The next trial setting conference was scheduled for Feb. 20, 2024, at 1:30 pm.
Emma Grunwald, reporter, can be reached 808-652-0638 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: The Garden Island