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Arizona cattle rustling, money laundering accusations explode with defamation lawsuits
By Rachel Alexander
What started out as accusations of cattle rustling in Arizona has risen to accusations of money laundering, which has become so contentious there are now multiple defamation lawsuits. The cowboys accused of illegal activity, including theft, have filed lawsuits against other cowboys who they believed spread information about their alleged involvement.
But the accused state that they did not disseminate the information, it was the accusers’ own associates who did so. Now the situation has gotten so contentious no one dares to investigate the allegations of cattle theft and money laundering, and no one will talk on the record. It has rocked the cattle industry in Arizona and turned people in the industry against each other. Since it is a relatively small industry compared to others in the state, it hasn’t gotten much attention either.
The controversy over cattle rustling escalated when the Arizona Department of Agriculture (ADA) hired a man named Wesley Dutton as a confidential informant to delve into the allegations of cattle theft and money laundering in 2019, something Judicial Watch was also looking into. Dutton produced an investigative report that became known as the “Dutton report,” which contained allegations of thousands of heads of cattle stolen, political corruption, mafia involvement and unlicensed behavior. The report named 40 suspected cattle thieves.
The Arizona Cattle Growers Association (ACGA) held a meeting to discuss the report. The Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) also requested to see the report. The report was then disseminated throughout the Arizona cattle industry, prompting the defamation lawsuits. Someone else turned it over to the FBI.
The money laundering accusations arose on July 1 when then-executive director of the ACGA, Jacqueline Hughes, sent an email to all 350-400 members of the ACGA expressing concern about seeing $11 million come through the organization’s bank account then disappear. She based this on Dutton’s suspicions that a very large Arizona corporation wanted to pay off powerful people in the water industry, so they laundered the money through the ACGA and its related entity, the Arizona Cattlemen’s Association, in order not to show the money coming directly from them. Dutton believes there were more incidents like this in the past.
Clay and Karen Parsons, who own Marana Stockyard and were named in the report, filed lawsuits last January against the ACGA, various officials who run the organization, and Dutton. The Parsons accused them of spreading false information about them. The members of ACGA who were sued denied this in their answers.
The accusations centered around a law enforcement meeting held to discuss the report. Two members of the ACGA executive committee and a Cochise County deputy sheriff delivered the report to the ADA and the DPS on July 8, 2020. It was reportedly transferred from there to a law enforcement meeting at a ranch on August 27, 2020 by Suzanne Menges, who was high up in leadership within the ACGA. Several sheriffs were there to view it, including Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb, Graham County Sheriff Preston Allred and Greenberg County Sheriff Tim Sumner. However, Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels said it wasn’t trustworthy, so the sheriffs never actually looked at it.
According to inside sources, Manny Angulo, lead investigator for the ADA, told those in attendance that Dutton was a confidential informant for them. This has now become an issue in the lawsuit since the Parsons are trying to discredit Dutton by pointing out that he has no credentials since he’s not a licensed private investigator. They also accuse him of violating Arizona law prohibiting someone from presenting themselves as a private investigator if not registered as one. Dutton said he has an email from the DPS confirming his position as a confidential informant.
Inside sources say the truth is that on November 1, 2020, someone in the ACGA who is not listed as a defendant, who others can identify, emailed the report to multiple people, it wasn’t the ACGA officials named in the lawsuit who did. The Parsons’ lawsuit also names ACGA officials Menges, Billy Elkins, Jay Whetten, Mike Wear, John Ladd and Jack Mann as defendants responsible for disseminating the report.
In addition to defamation, the Parsons are alleging negligence, invasion of privacy, emotional distress and other accusations, and asking for punitive damages. They said the defendants have an “evil mind” and spreading the report has hurt their business.
The lawsuits are becoming high-profile, dragging in officials from the ADA. The Parsons are deposing the head of the ADA, Mark Killian, Angulo, and Kilian’s second in command, Jerome Rosa.
Insiders who don’t dare speak up due to fear of being sued say they have no seen no evidence produced by the Parsons that they have been harmed, and they don’t understand the lawsuits since it’s clear who disseminated the Dutton report. They believe if the FBI or another investigative agency would get involved, the truth would all come out.
But no law enforcement agency seems to be doing anything about it, and it may be because of the politics involved — the ADA appears to be full of people with too many connections who want to avoid the controversy. And as a member of the Phoenix FBI told me several years ago when I tried to file a complaint against the Maricopa County Supervisors, “We don’t like to get into too many battles with other local government agencies since we have to work with them regularly, you realize.”
Additionally, who wants to stick their neck out if the mafia is possibly involved and you could get sued? Judicial Watch is no longer investigating, possibly due to how litigious the situation has become. But if law enforcement never gets to the bottom of it, how is a judge or jury to determine whether the report is false or not?