An animal rights group seeking to shut down illegal horse slaughterhouses and other illegal butcheries received a shot in the arm this week when a Florida rancher, targeted in an undercover sting, was sentenced to a year in jail.
Following the sentencing of Jorge Luis Garcia, 48, of Ranchos Garcia Farm to a year behind bars without possibility of probation, animal-rights activist Richard “Kudo” Couto declared the sentence a “groundbreaking” decision, one that should help other prosecution efforts of illegal slaughterhouses.
“We’ve investigated 137 cases, but this is the first one involving the treatment of farm animals that has gone to trial,” says Couto, founder and president of the Animal Recovery Mission (ARM). Prior to Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Samantha Schosberg Feuer’s sentencing of Garcia to 364 days in a county jail on Tuesday, the Animal Recovery Mission had yet to have one of its cases result in this stiff a sentence, Couto says.
“This is the first time in the history of the state that … a person has been sentenced to prison for torturing animals,” Couto says, noting that Garcia was charged with two misdemeanor counts of torturing goats to death.
The sentencing came months after Couto and other ARM investigators investigated the 4-acre farm in Loxahatchee, which borders the fabled Wellington show grounds.
In October, local and national law enforcement agents who acted on the evidence amassed by Couto and ARM investigators shut down Rancho Garcia Farm in a large-scale sting. Rancho Garcia, along with the G.A. Paso Fino and Medina farms, was shut down, and arrests were made. Please see an earlier article: http://offtrackthoroughbreds.com/2015/10/16/cuoto-illegal-butchers-killed-show-horses-too/.
Although Couto suspected horses were slaughtered on the farm, and law enforcement recovered horsemeat from farm freezers, no remains of horses were found. And this particular case centered on the treatment of livestock instead, he says.
Noting that he was both surprised and thrilled by the sentence, Couto says the decision establishes case law, which can be used going forward to prosecute other slaughterhouses. “We have several investigations going on right now, and when we conclude them, we’ll use this sentence to show prosecutors that cases against animals can result in jail time,” he says.
Couto is a retired real estate agent who devoted his life, beginning in 2008, to saving horses and investigating illegal slaughterhouses. While volunteering with the South Florida SPCA, Couto helped rescue off-track Thoroughbred Freedom’s Flight from the knife blade of a backyard butcher. The flashy chestnut was tethered tightly to a tree awaiting his death when he was rescued by the Miami-Dade Police. After that incident, Couto adopted the gelding and made it his mission to shut down slaughterhouses. Please see earlier story: http://offtrackthoroughbreds.com/2015/04/08/liberated-from-illegal-butcher-a-horse-inspires-2/.
After documenting the activities taking place for years in backyard butchers and illegal slaughterhouses, Couto says the sentence this week renews his faith that slaughterhouses will eventually be shut down in Florida.
“Cases involving farm animals are usually overlooked,” Couto told the SunSentinel newspaper. “This is an extremely important case that will help us with our investigations moving forward.”