Cattle rustling stirs images of whooping cowboys on horseback riding off behind a stampeding herd in the middle of the night. But when the modern version of cattle rustling came to Lancaster, CA, recently it was a far cry from the 1940’s romanticized cinema sagas. And it certainly was not something Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies expected.
"Never had one of these cattle-rustling things," said Sheriff's Deputy Mike Rust, who's been with the department for 23 years.
Using bad checks and a stolen trailer, the thieves just drove off in a stolen truck loaded with 15 head of cattle in broad daylight, according to officials..
Los Angeles County Sheriffs were first contacted by a brand inspector for the United States Department of Agriculture on October 23. The USDA was investigating the theft of 15 cattle in Oklahoma, which occurred on October 19. They had tracked a truck involved to a ranch in west Lancaster, not far from Antelope Valley State Prison, according to Los Angeles Daily News reporter Eric Hartley.
As a result of the joint effort of the agencies, three people suspected of stealing cattle from a rancher and a stock auction in Oklahoma were rounded up themselves and arrested this week in Lancaster, authorities said.
Santos Zapata, 23, of Lancaster, Ryan Ross, 30, of Arkansas and Lucia Castillo, 34, of Missouri used a fraudulent check to purchase a Black Angus bull from a rancher in Oklahoma and then used another fake check to buy an additional 14 head of cattle from a nearby stock auction, authorities said in statement.
Further investigation revealed the trailer used to transport the animals had been reported stolen in Arkansas and its license plate had been stolen from a vehicle in Kern County,CA. If not for the legitimate plates on the truck, the thieves might never have been caught, Deputy Rust said.
“After loading all of the animals into a stock trailer, the suspects began their modern day 'cattle drive' back to California.” However, they were foiled by technology which allowed the USDA to trace the truck to a ranch in the 45300 block of 60th Street West in Lancaster.
Officers later detained the suspects as they tried to leave the ranch in a truck hauling the stock trailer, but further investigation revealed the suspects had already sold the 14 head of stolen cattle Monday at stock auctions in Riverside and Bakersfield, officials said.
The Black Angus bull was found inside a corral on the property and appeared to be seriously injured.
Los Angeles County Animal Care & Control’s Major Case Unit was contacted, and Sergeant Rachel Montez-Kemp, assigned to the Lancaster Animal Care Center, responded. She observed the young bull lying on the ground next to a pen of cattle. She said the bull's left hind leg was badly swollen and he was struggling to move and totally unable to stand.
A local large-animal veterinarian was immediately called to the scene and determined that the bull appeared to have a broken back and was in extreme pain. She recommended that he be humanely euthanized to stop his suffering, and he was put down.
Deputy Rust said the veterinarian believed the injury happened during the drive from Oklahoma to California.
Zapata, Ross; and Castillo now face charges of animal cruelty and vehicle theft, according to Sheriff’s officials. They are scheduled to appear in court Nov. 9 and will later be sent back to Oklahoma to face other criminal charges.