The handi-work of Jason McDowell, former hired man for SilverSun Farms, who is alleged to have deliberately starved 550 cattle resulting in the death of at least 12 in attempt to cover up the theft of the 70 he stole while owners Walter and Adeline Suntjens were away on a two-week holiday. ECA Review/D.Clark
Jason McDowell, the former SilverSun Farm’s hired man was found guilty for only one count of cattle theft in the Kamloops Provincial Court on Nov. 18 where received an 18 month jail sentence for stealing 10 cows according to court documents.
However, according to Walter Suntjens he had a total of 50 bred cows and 20 yearlings stolen.
It is no wonder that SilverSuns Farm owner Walter Suntjens prefers good “ole western justice” over the current justice system when he claimed in a recent interview, “If these people are not sent to jail then ranchers and farmers will take justice into their own hands. We will not allow things like this to happen so if the judges will not take care of it – then we will.”
McDowell’s own mother Kathy English even called his sentence “ridiculous” and “a slap on the wrist.”
McDowell’s defense lawyer’s request for “house arrest” was denied by the presiding judge and instead he was sentenced to a 354 day jail term, a $100 victim surcharge and $20,000 in restitution for the charge of cattle theft and another six months in jail, a $200 victim surcharge and $11,430 in restitution for the two counts of theft over $5000.
The $20,000 restitution payment is to be paid to Colton Sather, the Hughenden rancher who had unknowingly bought 10 of the stolen cattle and the $11,430 restitution payment is to go to the Cache Creek Natural Beef Company, which is another ranch operation that McDowell conned his way into claims a Kamloops source.
A court worker for the Kamloops Provincial Court informed the ECA Review that the victim surcharge is money that is given to the BC Victim Services which in turn is redirected to various victims of crime in the local area.
The Suntjens’ were not named as recipients of McDowell’s restitution payments. The reasoning behind this was asked of Crown Counsel, Will Burrows who stated in an email to the ECA Review, “The decision to charge with respect to only 10 cattle was made by the Crown and/or police in Alberta, so I can’t help you with the circumstances of that file. No restitution was sought as the cattle were recovered.”
The ECA Review contacted the RCMP livestock investigator but the call was not returned prior to going to press.
In February 2015 Walter and Adeline Suntjens returned to their ranch, which has been in the family for 104 years, after a two-week vacation to find their lives and livelihood forever changed. Suntjens runs a 550 cow/calf operation and farms 3000 acres northeast of Hanna.
According to Suntjens’, their hired man, Jason McDowell, his wife Kelly, their six children and Jason’s father, John had all up and left with only a note to explain their sudden disappearance.
Countless delays and additional expenses for damaged equipment
The note claimed that Jason and John had quit due to inadequate pay and that the bonuses they were promised had not been given during the six months they had been employed.
A cheque for over $5,000 signed by Jason’s wife, Kelly for repayment of moving expenses owed to Suntjens was NSF. Suntjens said he paid up front for bringing the McDowell’s from BC to Alberta with a contract signed that monies would be paid back.
Suntjens said he soon realized it was more than just the hired hand and his family that were gone.
A plain clothes RCMP officer who specializes in livestock theft was brought in to investigate the case. Having just preg checked the cows the month prior, Suntjens knew the exact number of cattle he owned.
It was discovered that the McDowell’s had advertised the cattle on kijiji and after tearing out the ear tags, had sold at least 20 of the bred cows to two separate ranchers in the area.
Most disturbing for Suntjens was learning that the cattle that remained had not been fed or watered during the entire two weeks they had been away and were in serious danger of losing due to malnutrition. According to Suntjens, McDowell attempted to cover up his theft by deliberately starving the cattle and breaking the water trough in hopes that any resulting deaths would account for the missing livestock.
Despite the thousands of dollars they spent in mineral and feed after consulting a nutritionist, said Suntjens, 12 cows still died. SilverSun Farms was now down 82 cows not including the additional 50 calves that would have been born later that spring, he added.
To make matters worse, Suntjens said there were countless unexpected delays and additional expenses as a result of having to repair all the damaged equipment they found when they trying to rescue the remaining livestock from the conditions they had been subjected to at the hands of McDowell.
Suntjens also found their 1600 square foot home and the camper that they provided to the McDowell’s in total disarray. The group had destroyed the house and tracked in so much mud that it cost the Suntjens over $500 to have it professionally cleaned. The Suntjens’ had also provided the McDowell’s with another $3,000 for upgrades to their complimentary home which included paint and a brand new $400 granite kitchen sink, which was also missing.
The more the Suntjens investigated the more they found wrong, they said. Neither of the work trucks that had been provided to the McDowell men were functional. All four front-end loader tractors had been smashed and disabled, the grain feeding trailer had a broken wheel and a deliberately broken four-inch axle. Their new 32 foot stock trailer had a damaged fender and their new truck had an additional 11,000km racked onto the odometer. Fence posts, panels, feed and thousands of dollars worth of tools, pumps, air jacks and other miscellaneous items were missing.
Luckily, with the help of the ranchers who had purchased the SilverSun cattle along with the undercover RCMP officer and observant employees at Hanna Building Supplies who reported the license plate number from the stock trailer, the BC RCMP were able to arrest McDowell while he was working on his next theft operation for a rancher in BC.
So far the Suntjens’ have had two trucks loads of tools and 20 bred cows returned by local RCMP. Walter Suntjens was so thankful for the Hughenden rancher who purchased 10 of the stolen cattle from McDowell had come forward, which he said was a major help in breaking open the case. Suntjens let him keep two of the cows.
Even the insurance policy that SilverSun Farms had didn’t compensate them for their loss due to issues surrounding the fuduciary relationship.
The question begs to be asked, said Suntjens. Is this justice?
During a recent telephone interview with Jason McDowell’s mother, Kathy English she said that something needs to be done to stop her son and his wife. “He has no conscience.”
According to English, Jason McDowell and his wife Kelly have warrants in at least eight different provinces that she knows of, including a history of illegal activity in Montana and Florida. “He was involved with an Evangelical Church in Jacksonville, Florida” and no doubt used God to steal from those poor people,” she added. “He is a master manipulator.”
She went on to say that she knows for a fact that her son and his wife deliberately got pregnant with their sixth child for the sole purpose of collecting maternity leave pay and that they clearly have little concern for their children’s welfare. They have uprooted and moved so often while running from the law and their oldest child (9) can’t even read or tell time at a level consistent for her age.
English questions her son’s ability to look after his own children and former employer Walter Suntjens said that “Jason must be monitored for the rest of his life to ensure he is never left in charge of any animals to cause them the pain or neglect and starvation for his personal gain.”
Eighteen months was the jail sentence despite various outstanding provincial warrants, a history of illegal activity and his own mother stating he needs to be stopped.
Jason’s wife, Kelly was to appear for a preliminary hearing date set for February 2016 however Suntjens, in a phone call to the DA for the case in Hanna was told on Mon. Nov. 23 that all charges were dropped.
$5000 cash reward
Walter Suntjens of SilverSun Farms is offering a $5000 reward for the return of his 30 missing bred cows and 20 yearlings.
The SilverSun Farms brands are: on the left hip, the yearlings have a five over “W”.
On the right rib of the cows have a bar “W” five.