Investigators: Rustling arrest just tip of iceberg

SPRINGFIELD (AP) — A southwest Missouri man accused of stealing more than $100,000 worth of cattle and equipment likely is part of a larger cattle rustling ring operating in the region, investigators said, so farmers need to remain on guard against suspicious activity.

Howard Lee Perryman, 67, of Monett, was charged last week with two counts of felony stealing and one count of felony tampering after DNA found on a used paper towel near the scene of a May 2012 cattle theft was traced to him. He remains held in Greene County on $1 million bond and didn’t yet have an attorney Tuesday.

Perryman, who has more than 30 previous felony convictions, was arrested Thursday after a nearly daylong manhunt in Greene County that involved eight law enforcement agencies.

“From 1988, when I started as a deputy sheriff in Greene County, Howard Perryman was a cattle rustler then, and he’s a cattle rustler today,” Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott said. “What we need to do is try to expedite our system a little more and get him away to prison where he belongs.”

While some believe the arrest will put a big dent in the area’s agricultural crime rate, others think Perryman was part of a larger ring whose other members are still at large.

“I think this is a pretty big chess game,” said Sgt. Jason Pace with the Missouri Highway Patrol.

The state’s Livestock and Farm Protection Task Force was reactivated in 2009 after a string of agriculture thefts, Pace said. More than 1,300 incidents have been investigated and more than $6 million in property recovered since then, he said.

In addition to matching in the May 2012 case, Perryman’s DNA also was matched to four other theft cases, according to a probable cause statement.

Stolen equipment from Greene, Christian, Webster, Jasper, Dade and Lawrence counties was recovered in connection with Perryman’s arrest, Pace said.

As for cattle, it’s pretty tough to determine where the animals have been taken, Arnott said.

“The cattle market is very difficult, especially when we cross state lines, where we can track everything,” he said. “In the past, we’ve tracked stolen cattle all the way to Mississippi.”

Perryman became proficient at stealing cattle and equipment during his long history of convictions, law enforcement officials said.

“This guy was very, very good at what he did,” said Barry County Sheriff Mick Epperly. “I know our crime rate for rural agriculture crime is going to go down a tremendous amount.”

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