MADISON -- The man accused of rustling 26 Holstein steers from a Lac qui Parle County farm and selling them at sales barns in Benson and Pipestone pleaded guilty Thursday in District Court in Montevideo to an amended charge of possession of stolen property.
Richard Kenneth Nelson, 41, formerly of Montevideo and now of Pine City, admitted to the court that he knew or should have known the cattle -- each weighing between 1,200 and 1,500 pounds -- were stolen when he transported them away from a rural feedlot on the night of Jan. 28. In his testimony, Nelson accused another man who accompanied him of loading the cattle and offering him $5,000 to transport and sell them.
The cattle had an estimated value over $40,000, and Nelson admitted to accepting checks written to his business of Get Ur Done Trucking for 12 steers he delivered to the sales barn in Benson, and 11 to the sales barn in Pipestone.
His guilty plea to the Lac qui Parle County charge came shortly after he pleaded guilty to an identical charge of possession of stolen property filed by Chippewa County. In that case, Nelson admitted knowing he had in possession on his rural farm site a John Deere Gator, Bobcat skid loader, John Deere Z Track pro lawn mower, and a four-place snowmobile trailer, all of which he had reason to believe were stolen.
The stolen items were discovered by law enforcement officers when they searched Nelson's property on Jan. 31 for evidence in the cattle case.
Nelson's pleas to the two offenses came as part of a plea bargain that places a five-year maximum on any probation he may receive as part of a sentence. It also makes the sentences for both offenses concurrent -- meaning they would be served at the same time and not one after the other. District Judge Paul Nelson accepted the guilty pleas and ordered a pre-sentence investigation. The maximum penalty for the crime is 10 years in prison. The plea agreement does not prevent Nelson from being ordered to serve prison time. He is currently free on bond.
Nelson told the court that he used his trailer to haul the cattle in two trips on behalf of one of two men who accompanied him that night. The man he accused is a relative of the owner of the cattle. The cattle were transported in the night to a farm in Yellow Medicine County. Nelson testified that the farm owner was expecting them but was sleeping when they were delivered.
The cattle were taken on a Saturday night. Nelson transported the cattle to the Benson and Pipestone sales barns on the subsequent two nights.
During his testimony, Nelson initially said that moving the cattle from the owner's property at night "did give me some suspicions" as to the possibility they were being stolen. He subsequently admitted that he had reason to believe or know that they were stolen.
He said the reason he had the sales barn checks written to his company is that he wanted to be sure of being paid for their transport. He said the man for whom he transported the cattle had been a drug user. "I wanted to make sure I got paid," he said.
No charges have been filed against any of the other three men accused by Nelson of roles in the crime.
Lac qui Parle County Attorney Mark Gruenes said after the hearing that the matter remains under investigation and charges could be filed against others in the case. All three have offered statements to investigators.
Nelson denied having any role in the theft of the stolen equipment found on his property. He offered different explanations for each. He said he purchased the John Deere Gator for $3,500 when a man he met at a bar in Montevideo offered to sell it to him. He said he only remembered the man's first name as "Ronnie."
He testified that he bought the skid loader from the man he accused of arranging for the cattle transport. He bought the lawn mower for $5,000 cash from a man in Benson who had advertised it in the Star Advisor. Nelson said the man told him he was getting a divorce and didn't want his wife to know of the sale. Another man brought the trailer to his property, he said.
In the cases where he said he purchased the items, he admitted to paying significantly less than their actual value.