A dairy owned by Hanford Rep. David Valadao and his family appears headed for the auction block, as creditors have taken control of the day-to-day operations and have begun selling off cattle and equipment to pay back more than $8 million in unpaid loans.
In November, Rabobank sued Triple V Dairy in Fresno County Superior Court, alleging two loans totaling about $8.3 million had gone unpaid. The lawsuit names Triple V, located east of Corcoran; the Republican congressman; five of his family members; two other businesses, Lone Star Dairy and Two Star Dairy; and 50 unnamed defendants.
Court documents dated March 28 show that both sides agreed that Rabobank would take control of Triple V Dairy until its sale can be negotiated. Rabobank appointed John Van Curen, president of Old West Ranch Company in Fresno, as its agent to handle the day-to-day affairs at Triple V.
Additional orders show that Van Curen was to sell as much of Triple V's herd as possible (including cows, breeding bulls and calves) at a May 15 auction conducted by A&M Livestock of Hanford. Van Curen was also authorized to sell dairy and breeding equipment, with proceeds going into an account that would be used to pay back a portion of the defaulted loans.
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It's not yet clear whether the auction took place as planned or how much was sold. However, an inventory sheet filed with the court on May 21 showed that Triple V's dairy, heifer facility and calf ranch had nearly 17,000 cows, heifers, breeding bulls and calves as of April 2.
The inventory also showed more than 4,000 tons of feed at Triple V facilities.
On Monday, Triple V had hundreds of cows in pens visible from the street.
Lone Star Dairy had 1,271 cows and 985 heifers at its facilities as of April 4, the inventory sheet noted.
The next court appearance in this case is scheduled for July 16.
Attempts to reach the attorneys listed for Rabobank and Triple V in court documents were not successful.
A phone number for Triple V Dairy was no longer in service as of Monday. According to business research firm Dun & Bradstreet, Triple V has 12 employees.
Anna Vetter, spokeswoman for Rep. David Valadao, said House ethics rules do not allow him to participate in the daily operations of his family's dairies and could not comment on the lawsuit. According to Valadao's 2016 disclosure forms, Valadao's stake in Triple V is valued between $1,000,001 and $5 million.
"Since 2001, 47.7 percent of dairy farms throughout the United States have been forced to close their doors," Vetter said. "In California, during the same time period, 35.6% of dairy farms shut down. "
She continued: "Unfortunately, far too many family dairy farms in the Central Valley are struggling. Over the last five years, at least 50 dairies in Fresno, Kern, Kings, and Tulare have been forced to close their doors."
Coincidentally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture finalized a rule Friday establishing federal regulations on the milk industry. Valadao proposed the rule through legislation in 2013, saying it would help California dairy producers compete in the national market.
"As a dairy farmer myself, I experienced firsthand the serious disadvantages dealt to California dairy producers and I came to Congress to ensure Central Valley farmers and ranchers had a voice in Washington," Valadao said in a news release.
Should the debts associated with Valadao's dairies get resolved, he could shed the dubious mantle of "poorest member of Congress." The money owed to Rabobank and other creditors listed on his disclosure forms have led to this designation for several years.
Triple V and the Valadao family are also being sued in a separate lawsuit in San Joaquin County. Lawley's Inc. alleges the dairy owes more than $1 million in unpaid fee bills.
That case has yet to move as far through the courts, but an April 9 filing shows that Jose Dimas Valadao and Mary Jane Valadao – who are both defendants in the Rabobank case – have filed for bankruptcy. They estimated their assets were worth between $1 million and $10 million and their liabilities from Triple V and Two Star dairies to be between $10 million and $50 million.