Ex-ranch manager facing trial in Eastern Montana on $2 million in stolen cattle, services


By Tom Lutey, Billings Gazette (MT)

Aug 2, 2019


A Richland County ranch manager heads to trial later this month on allegations of felony theft and illegal branding.


Jerry H. Klempel faces seven felony charges for allegedly taking more than his share of the cattle at Veebaray Ranch, while also running an illegal grazing operation on the side and misbranding the cattle of his grazing clients.


The trial is set for Aug. 22. The Montana Attorney Generalís office is prosecuting the case, which was also investigated by state investigators and the Department of Livestock. Klempelís wife, Janice, is a Richland County District Court clerk.


Veebaray Ranch, located near Lambert, is an ancestral ranch operated by a family cooperation overseen by Leslie Russell. In 1998 Klempel was hired to manage the ranch. Klempel had his own cattle, which were merged with the Russell herd, of which Klempel received a 20 percent interest. The combined herd was 620 animals. Klempel and his family lived on the ranch for free. Proceeds from calf sales were split evenly. If the joint venture ended, Klempel was to get 20% of the cattle, with the Russells and Klempel selecting the animals together to avoid cherry picking by either party.


In his affidavit against Klempel, Assistant State Attorney General Kenneth Varns said the arrangement became stressed in 2011, when Russell and her husband, Joe, grew suspicious of the ranchís feed costs. The Russells hired an accountant to audit their herd. The accountant reported 39 heifers missing, and 42 the next year. In 2013 there were 98 heifers missing.


Joe Russell allegedly found a cattle sale contract between Klempel and Sidney Livestock co-owner Mike Prewitt. The cattle inventory numbers still werenít what the Russells expected. Klempel was terminated in late 2014.


The cattle split at Klempelís departure wasnít 80-20, Veebaray told investigators. They said Klempel left with 465 of the ranch's 864-head herd. The Russells werenít present, as agreed to when Klempel was hired, to participate in dividing the animals.


Klempel argued that 290 of the cattle he departed with were taken to secure a debt owed to him by Veebaray Ranch. One of the theft charges against Klempel stems from the taking.


The Russells sued. A court-ordered inventory of the Veebaray herd showed 63 animals missing.


The state Department of Livestock began looking at cattle inspection certificates from sales by Klempel. Livestock officials concluded...