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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A livestock dealer claims in a federal lawsuit filed Monday that cattle prices at the Oklahoma National Stock Yards are being illegally manipulated.
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Oklahoma City by Parker Livestock of Thomas alleges the stockyards and others are violating provisions of the federal Packers and Stockyards Act, a 1921 law designed to prevent conflicts of interest and market manipulation.
The suit also claims that the livestock company's owner, John Parker, was banned from the stockyards' weekly Monday auctions after he complained about the activities, reducing competition and artificially depressing prices. The lawsuit states that from June 2009 through March 2012, Parker purchased about 10 percent of the cattle sold at the stockyards' Monday auctions.
"Due to the large number of and wide variety of cattle that Parker purchases, excluding Parker from the Monday auction at ONSY depresses the prices paid at the auction for all types of cattle sold at the Oklahoma City stockyards," the lawsuit alleges.
It also alleges the actions affect the entire U.S. cattle market.
"All stocker and feeder cattle purchases and sales in the United States are impacted by the Monday auction in Oklahoma City because it is the first auction of the week and one of the largest," according to the lawsuit.
Robert J. Fisher Jr., president of the stockyards and a defendant in the lawsuit, did not return a telephone call seeking comment.
Among other things, the lawsuit states that in 2011, Parker observed someone buying cattle while serving as the auctioneer, a violation of the federal statute. Parker told the auctioneer, the stockyards and other auction participants, leading the stockyards to tell the auctioneer he could no longer buy cattle while serving as auctioneer. The man subsequently stopped auctioneering at the stockyards.
Then, on March 12, Parker saw a different auctioneer buying cattle, according to the lawsuit. "He observed what he perceived to be the auctioneer buying form the block, which is a violation of federal law," Parker's attorney, Harlan Hentges of Edmond, said.
Parker interrupted the auction and notified other participants. Parker also tried to discuss the issue with Fisher but was prevented from speaking with him and later banned from participating in future auctions, according to the lawsuit.
"ONSY excluded Parker in retaliation for reporting violations of the Packers and Stockyards Act to the United States Department of Agriculture, auction participants and the public," the lawsuit states.
It also alleges that one or more of the lawsuit's eight defendants have misrepresented facts to USDA employees investigating Parker's exclusion from the auctions.
Dexter Thomas, acting chief of staff for the Grain Inspection, Packers & Stockyards Administration, which facilitates the marketing of livestock and other agricultural products for USDA, said the agency has been looking at the case since the spring.
"We do know about the allegations," Thomas said. He said the investigation remains open and he could not discuss it in detail.