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/
15 responses to “2 free in Palm Beach slaughter plea deal, 1 jailed”
The states prosecutor dropped the ball…and again, animal abusers get let off easy. in our community a have to get to higher authority to make it a more severe penalty..so far we have not gotten to the right person…but we will. These people should not have gotten a plea dea, this despite a bill signed int law by Gov Crist in 2010 that states abusing an animal, illegal slaughter, and selling of meat for human consumption …is a felony 3. Where was this during the trial, and why were these culprits allowed to plea? Couto had videos and recorded evidence of this illegal operation, the raid was spectacular, thanks to ARM, BSO and agencies from other counties, 750 animals were moved to a sanctuary. Now to get a stricter penalty.
This makes me wonder about the prosecuting attorney, probably an ADA. In our area ADA’s are hired but the DA is elected so complaints should go to the DA – if there are reelection thoughts then the DA should take action and Arco should be called on the carpet or out on her ass. Hopefully the newspapers will get another story to question why witnesses weren’t called and listing other facts. The DA’s office has a responsibility to enforce the laws – if it or one of it’s representatives refuses to do the job or is simply incompetent, that person should be fired. Demand a pink slip publicly.
Everything comes full circle.
This too will be taken care of. Sometimes things don’t have the result we expect but the end result will be worth the wait.
They think they are free, that they can start all over, it won’t happen.
We will see…
Please tell me I am just having a very bad dream and when I wake real justice was carried out.
Mmh, are animals in legal industrial size slaughter plants treated better and slaughtered more humanely than these?
I don’t see where eating horse meat is in any way worse/different than eating a cow, pig or chicken. If you generally agree that eating meat is okay, then eating a horse is not worse than eating a cow. On the other hand, if you are an ethical vegetarian, all animal killing for human consumption, no matter where and what species, is unacceptable.
The people responsible for the murder of innocent animals should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law! No exceptions!! The innocent animals have no voices our laws need to protect them!
This act could also support grand larceny and criminal trespass and breaking and entering claims. Why did they plead it out?
WTF? Florida should hang it’s collective head in SHAME.
Thank You Susan & Richard for exposing this gruesome trade and injustice! Richard is on a panel I am moderating at the Equus Film Festival in NYC on Friday … Susan this piece will serve as the basis for a dialogue … if your ears are ringing Friday night … your name will be among the ‘Horse Defenders’ in TriBeCa. With gratitude, Susan Kayne <3.
I’m so glad to hear that this will be part of a dialogue. Richard mentioned he was speaking tonight in NYC,and that this would be a key topic. I was so surprised by this because Florida has been so aggressive in pursuing illegal slaughterhouses.
It is so disheartening to read this corruption of justice. I can’t evenimagine it. Ruined my day. Hope those involved suddenly get a conscience.
With all the incriminating evidence against them, why did the prosecutor say this? Is she in kohutz with them? Is she really a defense attorney in disguise? Just wondering.
Even people that we deem decent and civilized in this country, even public defenders, don’t give a damn about anyone but themselves. It’s all about money and winning, no matter how wrong the win is.
When those charged with punishing or fining the people involved in such cases are not animal lovers themselves — they believe the four-leggeds or fowl are “just animals” and as such not deserving of humane treatment or the benefits of “good stewardship” — we get results like this. A special Hell awaits these people when their judgment day arrives; and they are teaching their children NOTHING about the sanctity of life. When they are old and ready for “pasture,” their children won’t care for them because they’ve never learned that life has value. Stick “Grandma Judy” in a cheap old-folks home somewhere and wait for the phone call.
Absolutely doesn’t surprise me at all. This is precisely why there will never ever be an end to poaching. It’s in these situations where I’d like to read about cops who beat and shoot indiscriminately. They’d be my hero’s.