A New Hampshire farm family was terrorized by a group who tried to force them to hand over hundreds of thousands of dollars, the FBI said.
The family that owns Rickety Ranch in Hollis refused to hand over $250,000, after which the extortionists inflicted thousands of dollars worth of damage to the ranch, including to vehicles and a barn.
Multiple acts of animal cruelty were also committed.
“The vicious shakedown of this family and the use of violence to intimidate them will not be tolerated. We’re asking anyone with information about who is terrorizing them to come forward and share that information with us so we can put a stop to it and bring whoever is responsible to justice,” reads a statement from Harold Shaw, special agent in charge of the FBI Boston Division, which covers all of New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island.
“He’s had some animals harmed viciously. He’s had a barn burned down, some severe property damage—tens of thousands of dollars,” FBI Agent Brian O’Hara added to WMUR.
“They’re a good family. They work hard. They have a farm that they use to help kids take care of animals and produce product they can sell, and they don’t know, but they live in fear. They’re constantly watching over their shoulders.”
The FBI is offering a reward of up to $10,000 for information leading to the identification and arrest of the person or persons behind the extortion attempts.
The person or persons sent multiple letters to the family demanding the quarter of a million dollars. The sender said that if they paid, they would be safe from harm.
In one letter released by the agency that is full of grammatical errors and formatted like a poem, the sender wrote: “I saw your flag on your lawn. And time almost gone. I know your in. Just pay me know and you will win. It will be simple and fast. I left instructions under glass. On your grass. From here o keep 50k cash on your [expletive].”
Disputes With Town
In addition to sparing the family from harm, the sender claimed to be capable of settling the ranch’s ongoing disputes with the town of Hollis. According to the Nashua Telegraph, owner Gary Bergeron and the town had a disagreement over land use and he objected to being cited for violating town ordinances. There were also problems regarding water runoff and a possible illegal driveway.
Anyone with information on the extortion was urged to call the FBI Boston Field Office at 857-386-2000.
The ranch has not commented on the extortion attempts, but neighbors remembered the barn being set on fire last year.
“Obviously, it’s scary to think about that something’s going on here,” neighbor Dave Dwyer told WMUR. “You want to lock your doors at night. It’s pretty terrifying.”
According to its Facebook page, the ranch is an “educational rescue farm for kids and run by kids.” The working farm also has free range chickens, grass-fed beef, and other animals.
On a blog, the ranch features photos of children enjoying time on the farm.
“The Rickety Ranch is an educational farm that teaches and encourages children from the ages of 9-19 to get involved in agriculture and learn how to care for animals. We offer a program in which children can come to the farm, adopt the animals, and be taught how to clean stalls, build enclosures, groom horses, train animals, and much more! Our barn offers a welcoming atmosphere where anyone is welcome and accepted into our family,” it stated.
“As we say, ‘not only are our fences “rickety” but the animals and children all have some rickety too.’ Most of our animals come from abusive backgrounds and have been rehabbed by many caring children who can turn the animals’ lives around. As for our children, most of them also come from bad situations, have disabilities, or just a troubled home life.”