- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 2, 2016

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - The former owner of a Dakotas buffalo ranch who was chastised by neighbors and law enforcement for his business practices is suing a man who was leasing the property before it was sold.

Florida real estate honcho Maurice Wilder is seeking nearly $200,000 in damages from Curt Hepper and his company, Flying H Buffalo Inc., of Raleigh, North Dakota. Wilder says in a federal civil suit filed Monday that Hepper stayed on the property 40 days after the lease expired in November.

Hepper did not respond Wednesday to email and phone messages left by The Associated Press. A phone message left for David Bliss, a Bismarck attorney who filed the suit for Wilder, declined to comment.

Wilder owned the ranch on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation for more than 20 years before it was recently sold. The ranch was criticized by some people who said the bison often ran loose and others who said the animals were mistreated.

The suit says Hepper and Wilder agreed to a one-year lease agreement in October 2014 for about 15,000 acres of land in Corson County, South Dakota, and about 5,000 acres in Sioux County, North Dakota. The deal also included the sale of about 3,500 buffalo cows, bulls, yearlings and calves.

“The parties consummated the sale of the buffalo, but Hepper and Flying H Buffalo did not remove their livestock and machinery from the Wilder Ranch by the end of the lease agreement,” the lawsuit says.

The suit also levels that damages from a holdover client are double the yearly value of property for the time the land is occupied - about $125,000. The suit also asks for $67,500 that Wilder said was paid to the new owner for the delay and about $1,900 in utility costs.

Wilder bought the ranch in 1994. Neighbors for years complained the animals getting out of their fences, damaging hay stacks and pastures and creating road hazards. North Dakota officials in 2009 dropped animal neglect charges against Wilder after he paid eight neighboring ranchers more than $60,000 in damages.

In 2009, the sheriff in Corson County was ordered to oversee the care of 6,000 buffalo on the Wilder ranch after several were found dead and others were determined to be malnourished. Wilder said employees were to blame and said other problems were overblown in media reports.

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