CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) — Federal bankruptcy officials in Iowa want to get out of the llama business as soon as possible, even if that means selling a herd of the rare pack animals on the cheap.
Officials are asking a judge Monday to approve the quick sale of 18 llamas seized from a self-proclaimed monk who left behind failed businesses and creditors in Illinois and Iowa. The animals’ owner — Ryan Patrick Scott, who wears a black robe, calls himself a priest and has a litany of financial problems and aliases — says federal officials are trying to fleece his creditors by asking to sell the llamas for one-tenth or less of their market value. Llama farmers in Missouri and Illinois have also objected to the sale and proposed buying them for a higher price.
The animals were seized on Jan. 16 after Scott filed for bankruptcy in Iowa, where his religious community is housed in a former county mental health institution. His group, which consists of a handful of followers and is disavowed by the Catholic Church, raised llamas and sold wool on the side. Scott left behind a similar operation last year in Galesburg, Ill., where a judge ordered him to pay a former follower $161,000 for failing to pay back loans.
“It’s a weird situation if nothing else,” said farmer Sandy Auld, who has been caring for the llamas with her husband at their farm while lawyers argue over their value. “We just want to do what’s right for the animals.”
Bankruptcy trustee Renee Hanrahan filed a motion last week to sell the creatures — known for their friendly nature, manure that can be turned into fertilizer and wool that can be sold and used in clothing — to the Aulds for $250 apiece. She also proposed the Aulds receive $100 a day for watching the herd, and keep a young llama named Carmelita, a favorite of the Aulds’ daughter.
When the herd was seized, Hanrahan called the Aulds, who show llamas and own Aulds’ Lluminous Llamas, and asked them to assess the herd’s health. Sandy Auld said animals were well taken care of, and offered to house them during the case. The Aulds then asked to buy them.
Hanrahan asked a judge to approve the sale in eight days instead of the usual 30, citing “adverse weather conditions, the depressed market and the unavailability of funds or expertise by the Trustee” to care for and sell the llamas.
Scott and his followers were trying to breed a miniature version of the Argentine, which is wooly, big-boned and fetches a high price — up to $3,000 or more, according to a website included in Scott’s filing. Hanrahan acknowledged the value of the five llamas with Argentine lineage, and said that, even if the sale price is “relatively low,” the sale should go through. Sandy Auld said the price was fair, given the risk they will assume to find new owners.
But Scott, through his attorney Brian Pondenis, objected to the sale last week, arguing the animals were owned by his nonprofit corporation and could not be sold. Even if the llamas can be sold, he said, they are being “incredibly undervalued” and should be auctioned off publicly.
“The Trustee’s Motion to Sell does not take into account the true value of a non-importable, long-living and value-producing animal,” Pondenis wrote, “but rather requests the quick fire-sale because continued care for the llamas is inconvenient.”
Pondenis said he believed only about 500 such animals remained in the U.S. after an import ban was enacted because of concerns about foot-and-mouth disease.
Owners of two other llama farms — ShowMeStateMinis in Missouri and Goose Lake Argentine Llama Farm in Illinois — proposed jointly purchasing the herd for $6,000. They asked for an auction in the event their offer was rejected.
Judge Paul Kilburg planned to hear arguments Monday.
Pondenis said he would ask Monday to withdraw as Scott’s lawyer because he said his client had misled him about “the entire nature of the case” and was not cooperating. While court documents say his name is Ryan Patrick Scott, Pondenis said the name on his driver’s license is Ryan Scott Gevelinger. Pondenis said it took him weeks to learn Scott has moved to St. Louis.