Easterday sentenced to 11 years in federal prison
Cody Allen Easterday, 51, of Mesa, was sentenced to 11 years in federal prison for defrauding Tyson Foods Inc. and a financial services company out of $244 million in a cattle scheme one federal attorney called out for its “brazenness.”
The so-called “ghost cattle” case involved fabricating 265,000 nonexistent cattle for whom Tyson paid Easterday to feed and raise. Federal investigators stepped in after Tyson discovered the fraud through internal audits.
At Easterday’s sentencing, Chief Judge Stanley Bastian remarked, this case involves “the biggest theft or fraud I’ve seen in my career – and the biggest I ever hope to see.” He further remarked to Easterday that “you destroyed” the very “empire you spent so much time building. It all came to a collapse because of what you have done.”
Easterday pleaded guilty in 2021 and sentencing was deferred while he worked through the bankruptcy of the vast agriculture empire founded by his grandfather. The process yielded about $65 million for the victim companies.
Easterday was ordered to pay more than $244 million restitution and will be subject to supervised release after his prison term is complete.
Easterday used most of the fraud proceeds to cover $200 million in losses he incurred in commodities future trading on behalf of Easterday Ranches.
The case was prosecuted by Vanessa Waldref, U.S. attorney for Eastern Washington.
Brian M. Donovan, the U.S. attorney who handled restitution and bankruptcy proceedings on behalf of the government, called the scheme brazen.
“The amount he stole – nearly a quarter of a billion dollars – would have funded the combined police, courts and fire department budget of Yakima, which is a city of nearly 100,000 people, for more than four years. Mr. Easterday’s greed destroyed his family’s farming empire and harmed innocent victims,” he said in a press release.
Vit plant hits milestone: turning on power to melters
Hanford’s vitrification plant turned on the power to 18 startup heaters to begin the process of bringing one of its two 300-ton melters online.
The process is key to begin stabilizing hazardous waste, transforming it into glass logs for safe disposal.
“In the coming weeks our team will methodically ramp up the melter to its 2,100-degrees Fahrenheit operating temperature and establish a pool of molten glass inside. The melter heatup process marks the culmination of many years of challenging work,” Bechtel National Inc., DOE’s treatment plant contractor, announced on social media.
Bechtel completed construction of the $17 billion Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant in 2021, with commissioning continuing into this year.
Vitrification is expected to begin in 2023.
L&I proposes 4.8% increase for 2023
The Washington Department of Labor & Industries has proposed a 4.8% increase in the average price for workers’ compensation insurance in 2023.
If adopted, the increase would cost employers and workers an additional $61 a year for full-time workers.
Employers and workers pay into the workers’ compensation system to help cover the cost of providing wage and disability benefits for injured workers, as well as medical treatment of workplace injuries and illnesses.
Rate hearings will be conducted via Zoom at 10 a.m. Oct. 26 and 27.
Go to lni-wa-gov.zoom.us/j/4283482697.
Tri-City Herald moves to mail delivery
The days of local carriers delivering the morning daily newspaper soon will be over in the Tri-Cities.
The Tri-City Herald, the region’s daily newspaper based in Kennewick, announced plans to deliver papers by mail starting Dec. 12.
The Herald, which prints its paper in Spokane after shuttering its own press in 2012, will drop off papers at the U.S. Postal Service’s Spokane mail distribution center for delivery in the Tri-Cities.
“For 95% of our customers, the weekday papers will continue to arrive on the same day that you receive them now,” said Laurie Williams, executive editor for the Herald, in a column announcing the change.
The Sunday edition is scheduled to arrive in Saturday’s mail.
The Herald noted the change was necessary to provide dependable and reliable service.
Local carriers, who are independent contractors, will continue to deliver newspapers to homes until the change takes effect in December.
In announcing the change, the Herald encouraged readers to engage with its new digital eEdition, which arrives around 5 a.m. daily. It features a replica of the print edition, as well as access to dozens of pages of additional content, without the restrictions of an early print edition deadline.
West Richland residents indicted for Covid-19 fraud
Two West Richland residents have been indicted by a grand jury in U.S. District Court for Eastern Washington on charges they obtained Covid-19 relief funds by fraud in separate cases.
The defendants, Jimia Rae Cain, 52, and Andrei Stephanovich Borgheriu, 45, both pleaded innocent at arraignment hearings in September. Both are represented by public defenders.
The indictments were announced by Vanessa Waldref, U.S. attorney for Eastern Washington, and were part of an investigation by the Covid-19 Strike Force.
Cain, also known as Jimia Rae Halbrook, is charged with seven counts of fraud in connection with loans obtained through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program.
Cain is accused of using false statements and fraudulent documents to obtain more than $330,000 in CARES Act funding for her purported business, Americore Construction Inc. She allegedly attempted to secure an additional $280,000 through the EIDL program, but it was denied. She faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted.
Borgheriu is charged with three counts of fraud in connection with $500,000 in EIDL funding obtained on behalf of his company, Artway Transport LLC. The indictment alleges Borgheriu claimed the money would be used for the business but only two weeks after securing the money, he wired $450,000 from his Bank of America account to Ticor Title company for the purchase of a West Richland home for cash.
The government is seeking the forfeiture of the home, 1710 Sunshine Ave. Borgheriu faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
“Covid-19 relief programs were designed to lift up our community during crisis, and due to the number of people and businesses that requested funding, some deserving small businesses were not able to obtain funding to keep their businesses in operation,” said Waldref. “We created the strike force in order to ensure that those who misused Covid-19 relief funding are held accountable and to protect the strength and safety of our vital small business community.”
Jury trials are set to begin at 9 a.m. Nov. 14 at the Richland Federal Building in both cases.
2 women in health field receive leadership awards
The Tri-City Regional Chamber honored two women in the health field with leadership awards on Sept. 22 at the Women in Business conference in Kennewick.
Avonte Jackson, Grace Clinic director, received the 2022 Athena Leadership Award.
Grace Clinic provides free medical, dental and mental health services to uninsured people in the Tri-Cities.
Rachel Fidino, an advanced practice registered nurse at Kennewick’s New U Women’s Clinic & Aesthetics, received the Athena Young Professional award.
She is the founder of the nonprofit Healing Hands Project that improves menstrual health, access to feminine hygiene products and quality of life for low-income and homeless women across the state.
The international Athena program honors female leaders who are effective, admirable and successful and have contributed to the development and empowerment of women.
Columbia Industries teams up with National Park Service
Tri-Citians with disabilities and other challenges will have the opportunity to participate in the National Park Service’s Junior Ranger program.
Kennewick-based Columbia Industries is teaming with the park service to offer clients of its CI Community Center the opportunity to learn about the modern and ancient history of the Mid-Columbia.
They will learn about the Manhattan Project and visit the Reach Museum in Richland to learn about the area’s World War II and Cold War history. Too, participants will learn about the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Wanapum and Yakama tribes that have called the area home for millennia.
“Working with the National Park Service is an incredible opportunity for our clients,” said Michael Novakovich, president and CEO of Columbia Industries. “Seeing a National Park Service ranger in a flat hat and green and grey suit holds a special place in the hearts and minds of adults and kids alike – the experience is sure to be a cherished memory for our clients. We are absolutely thrilled about this partnership and what it means for the clients we serve.”
Minimum wage will be $15.74 in 2023
The Washington state minimum wage for 2023 will increase to $15.74 an hour in January, an increase of $1.25.
The 8.66% increase is tied to the Consumer Price Index.
The state minimum wage applies to workers age 16 and older.
Employers can pay 85% of the minimum wage to workers ages 14-15. For 2023, the wage for that younger group will be $13.38 per hour.
Seattle and SeaTac both have higher wages.
For overtime exempt employees, the 2023 minimum salary for small employer with 50 or fewer employees is 1.75 times the minimum wage or $57,293 annually. For larger employers, it is two times the minimum wage, or $65,478 per year.
Crypto investors face big losses in volatile times
The Washington State Department of Financial Institutions is warning Washington residents that they could face “significant” losses investing in cryptocurrencies or cryptocurrency applications at a time of high market volatility.
The warning follows a similar one from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which issued a notice over the summer alerting investors that cryptocurrency is not covered by FDIC insurance.
“Market volatility has led to company instability, huge investor losses and significant regulatory actions,” said Charlie Clark, director for the state DFI, which also warned that in times of crisis, platforms may halt trading, preventing consumers from accessing funds.
The agency published a primer covering cryptocurrency.
Go to dfi.wa.gov/consumers/virtual-currency/primer.
Defibrillator available at Howard Amon Park
The public can access emergency medical equipment to treat heart attacks at all hours of the day and night at Richland’s Howard Amon Park.
Richland Fire & Emergency Services installed an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) in a Save Station Cabinet off Lee Boulevard in the park. It is the first in the community.
The AED was installed as part of the Heart Safe Richland initiative, which aims to boost the survival rate for heart attacks, which is only about 10% nationwide. AEDs empower the public to begin emergency treatment as quickly as possible.
Learn more about Save Stations at savestation.ca.
African American Chamber plans brunch in Kennewick
The Washington African American Chamber of Commerce Tri-Cities branch hosts a brunch from 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m., Oct. 22 at the Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick.
The program features breakout sessions focused on wealth management, business ownership and real estate.
The chamber serves people of color and provides access to education, technical assistance, advocacy and economic development, including access to grants and capital.
The event is free. Register at bit.ly/WAACOCBrunch.
PocketiNet sold to LS Networks
Portland-based LS Networks has reached a deal to acquire PocketiNet Communications Inc., which provides internet, phone and Wi-Fi services in Pasco and a string of other communities in Eastern Washington and eastern Oregon.
Terms were not disclosed.
LS Networks said the PocketiNet platform and team will contribute to work to extend its business across the Pacific Northwest.
As part of the announcement, PocketiNet said it would expand its fiber-to-the-home services in its existing communities of Walla Walla, College Place, Yakima, Milton-Freewater and Waitsburg, as well as Pasco, Sunnyside, Grandview, Prosser, Toppenish, Wapato and Zillah.
The initial investment will reach over 32,000 homes in Yakima, Benton, and Walla Walla counties.
The transaction is expected to close during the second half of 2023, subject to regulatory approvals and closing conditions.
Go to pocketinet.com.
Business groups back Snake River dams
The Association of Washington Business has teamed with Oregon Business & Industry to launch a coalition to support the region’s hydroelectric dams as a low-cost, reliable and renewable energy source.
AWB staff announced the formation of the coalition during a visit to Analog Devices in Camas during its annual Manufacturing Week bus tour. The tour stopped in the Tri-Cities on Oct. 11.
“The dams transformed the Northwest economy, creating some of the most fertile farmland in the nation and fueling the growth of the region’s manufacturing and high-tech industries. We need to protect and preserve the competitive advantage and quality of life they have given us,” said Kris Johnson, AWB president.
Angela Wilhelms, president and CEO of OBI, said the dams play a key role not only for the health of the economy, but also for meeting the demands of the two states’ clean energy climate goals.
“The Northwest dams have proven hugely successful, producing powerful results for our state, our region and our nation,” she said. “As we visit businesses and communities across the state, we hear routinely about the vital role that clean, reliable energy plays in creating opportunity today and for the future.”
Anti-litter campaign targets roadside eyesores
The Washington Department of Transportation is teaming with the state Department of Ecology in a campaign that uses peer pressure to discourage those who litter.
The state agency said 25% of residents litter, leaving 18 million pounds of garbage to accumulate each year on roads, in parks and at recreation areas.
The “Simple as That” campaign is built on the premise that litterers will stop if friends, family members or passengers ask them to dispose of litter properly and not out the window.
A 2022 study found 24,000 pieces of garbage per mile on the state’s urban interstates. Plastic food wrappers, snack bags and cigarette buts were the most-tossed items.
The state spends more than $9 million annually on cleanup efforts. In July, crews and volunteers collected 357 tons of garbage.
“Litter adds up when we don’t make simple choices to properly dispose of garbage. It damages our environment, hurts wildlife, and threatens public health, safety and our economy,” said Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. “Ultimately, our success is determined by people choosing to not litter.”
Go to LitterFreeWA.org/simple or PorUnWAImpecable.org/simple.