Three weeks after leading investigators to several Palm Beach-area slaughterhouses, and triggering a massive tactical raid on sites where illegal horsemeat and 750 animals were seized, Richard “Kudo” Couto said he was “shocked and sickened” to learn that three alleged perpetrators struck plea bargains in early November, and essentially “walked” with “minimal” penalty.
Three men connected with the G.A. Paso Fino Farm, one of three Palm Beach County area farms alleged to be the scene of inhumane and illegal slaughter, received plea arrangements from the 15th Judicial Circuit in Palm Beach County on Nov. 6.
They were: Edgar Bica, 49, who was sentenced to five months at the Palm Beach County Jail, with a year of house arrest to follow; Bica’s father, Edegar Bica, 83, and Rodobaldo Diaz, 47, both received probation in return for admission of guilt to the animal-cruelty charges, according to reports in the The Broward Palm Beach New Times.
Their deal was the first to be reached in a series of investigations spanning three alleged illegal slaughterhouses and six months. Two more cases are pending against Rancho Garcia and Medina Farm, which were also raided Oct. 13.
But the first verdict rocked Couto back on his heels.
“This is a first in all the years I’ve been investigating animal abuse and horse slaughter,” said Couto. “I’ve never had a case plead out in three weeks, and this is one of the strongest cases we’ve ever presented. Our evidence was so powerful and damning … (this result) is such a lack of justice, not just for our case, but in all animal cases in the country.”
Couto added, “I found out about the decision by picking up the paper. I couldn’t believe what I was reading; because, in all the years I’ve been investigating slaughterhouses and animal cruelty, I’ve been called as a witness, this is the first time I wasn’t called. I didn’t even know there was a court date until I read the article in the Palm Beach newspaper.
“I was sickened and shocked and dismayed by what I read. I even called the writer (of the newspaper article) to ask if the quotes attributed to the prosecuting attorney (Judy Arco) were correct.”
In published reports, prosecuting attorney Judy Arco states there was no evidence that horses were slaughtered on the G.A. Paso Fino Farm near the Wellington show grounds.
“The prosecutor basically in court called our investigators liars,” Couto said, who notes that he provided thick files detailing inhumane slaughter of livestock animals—animals boiled and skinned alive—to the illegal possession and processing of horsemeat.
Though his investigation failed to convince the prosecutor and judge, it did trigger an immediate and tremendous law enforcement raid on Oct. 13. At that time, SWAT teams, police, Palm Beach County law enforcement, and myriad others swooped in to close the farms, and make arrests, while Couto and others helped rescue 750 animals. “The police did everything right in this case,” he says.
The 15th Judicial Circuit in Palm Beach County, when reached for comment by Off Track Thoroughbreds.com had no official comment due to the ongoing case.
Couto has a successful 10-year history of leading investigations that result in arrests and closures of slaughterhouses in collaboration with the Miami-Dade Police, he says. In Palm Beach County, which is the epicenter of the winter horse show season, he expected a different outcome.
“In court, the prosecutor told the judge they weren’t killing horses on the property, that there was no evidence of horse slaughter on site,” said Couto, who contends that not only were horses slaughtered near the fabled Wellington, Fla. show grounds, but that horsemeat was pulled from freezers at they raided farms.
Couto said that his investigators actively procured horsemeat from the three farms raided, and that as many as 15 horses, including show horses, Quarter Horses, Thoroughbreds, and other breeds, were illegally butchered for their meat.
Although no live horses were discovered at G.A. Paso Fino the day of the raid, the meat recovered from the freezers on site, which has tested positive as horsemeat, combined with evidence amassed in a six-month undercover interviews makes him certain that horses were killed on these sites, he says.
Going forward, Couto plans to redouble his efforts to expose illegal slaughterhouses and horsemeat trade in Florida, and continue to build on his years spent achieving successful results, leading to arrests and jail time in cases in Miami-Dade County.
Though the case in Palm Beach County did not bring the result he expected, Couto said it has raised awareness of the horse-show circuit in Wellington. “My goal is to instill so much disgust in the people of Wellington over what happened,” he said. “The horse show community is starting to fly into Wellington now, and I’m getting calls from top riders” asking about the case.
*To read details of the Animal Recovery Mission’s investigation at G.A. Paso Fino, please click this link: http://www.animalrecoverymission.org/operation-g-a-paso-fino/
*To read an earlier article by Off Track Thoroughbreds on the raid, please click this link: http://offtrackthoroughbreds.com/2015/10/16/cuoto-illegal-butchers-killed-show-horses-too/