Rancher pleads guilty to falsely claiming cattle losses

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A South Dakota rancher has pleaded guilty in federal court to falsely claiming he lost more than a hundred cattle during the autumn blizzard of 2013 that left ranchers in the state reeling with financial losses.
 
Karl Knutson pleaded guilty Friday as part of a deal with prosecutors, the Rapid City Journal reported. The agreement dismisses a felony count of making a false statement, and prosecutors are recommending Knutson be sentenced to probation and fines.

Knutson's indictment said he submitted a claim in May 2014 to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency for the loss of 129 head of cattle in the October blizzard, even though the Vale rancher actually lost at most 13.

Court documents say the disaster payment for that claim would have paid out nearly $117,000.

The indictment also says Knutson told the agency in "a handwritten invoice" in August 2014 that he paid $135,350 for 103 head of cattle that he didn't actually buy.

Knutson didn't immediately return a telephone message from The Associated Press requesting comment regarding the plea. The maximum sentence the 27-year-old could face would be five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, followed by three years of supervised release.

The 2013 storm is estimated to have killed more than 50,000 livestock, causing financial problems for ranchers in the western part of the state.

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