Farms owned by Eastern Washington cattleman Cody Easterday will be sold Thursday at an auction expected to draw bids from firms associated with Bill Gates and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Delaware-based 100C LLC, linked to Gates in a previous large farmland sale in Eastern Washington, has bid $200.8 million for properties owned by Easterday, his wife and mother, said Richard Pachulski, the attorney representing the family's holdings, on Tuesday in federal bankruptcy court.
The bid topped the $193 million offer submitted by the Mormon church's Farmland Reserve Inc. in May. Farmland's bid set a baseline value and gave other bidders something to top in submitting written bids earlier this month.
Pachulski said 100C's bid set the new floor. The auction will be open to only qualified bidders. Bidders will have to up the price in $1 million increments, Pachulski said.
The sale will transfer an operation that Easterday's grandfather, Ervin Easterday, started in 1958 by buying 300 undeveloped acres in the Columbia Basin. The family farm grew to more than 18,000 acres of potatoes, onions, corn and wheat, according to court records.
Cody Easterday, 49, defrauded Tyson Fresh Meats of about $233 million and another unnamed company of about $11 million by billing the companies for more than 200,000 head of nonexistent cattle.
Easterday pleaded guilty March 31 to one count of wire fraud and is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 4 in U.S. District Court for Eastern Washington. He faces up to 20 years in prison and has been ordered to pay restitution.
After the fraud was uncovered, the Easterdays filed for bankruptcy. Tyson estimated in a court document that it represents about 90% of the money owed to dozens of creditors.
Properties to be auctioned include Nine Canyon Farm, Goose Gap Farm, River Farm and Cox Farm.
Oregon Public Broadcasting first reported Gates' apparent interest in buying the property. Efforts to reach 100C LLC were unsuccessful.
The Land Report, a magazine that follows the real estate industry, linked Gates to 100C LLC in the 2018 acquisition of 14,500 acres of farmland in Benton County in Eastern Washington.
The publication in January reported that Bill and Melinda Gates are the largest farmland owners in the U.S., with 242,000 acres in 19 states.
The portfolio includes 16,096 acres in Washington, according to the Land Report. Bill and Melinda Gates announced in May they planned to divorce.