Horses are still living at one of three illegal slaughterhouses near Wellington, including Paso Fino Farm, pictured above on Nov. 15th.
One of the men involved in illegal animal slaughterhouse operations in Loxahatchtee, Florida appeared in Palm Beach County court on Thursday, December 3rd.
Orlando Guzman, the property owner at 14873 Collecting Canal Road, which sits five miles from the famous Winter Equestrian Festival Showgrounds, is charged with Florida State Felony 500.451 possession and sale of horsemeat. Guzman’s “Paso Fino Farm” was one of three area illegal slaughterhouses raided on October 13th during what was the largest extreme animal cruelty raid in U.S. history.
During Guzman’s court appearance, Assistant Prosecutor Judy Arco of the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s office requested that Guzman be required to remove the remaining animals on his property, which include six horses, a dog, a cat and chickens. However, Judge Glenn Kelley ruled that Guzman could keep the animals, citing that he was only charged with possession of horsemeat, and not counts of horse slaughter. Kelley ordered the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Department to do weekly site checks of the animals for an undetermined period of time, and prohibited Guzman from doing any slaughtering.
For Animal Recovery Mission, which worked undercover at Guzman’s property for months, documenting inhumane animal slaughter and the sale of illegal horsemeat, the decisions amount to another ineffective slap on the wrist for an individual that they attest is a known horse killer. ARM Founder Richard Couto, who was infuriated when the first three individuals charged in this case were handed plea deals, voiced his frustration with Thursday’s decision.
“For a judge to give possession of horses to a horse killer is something I haven’t seen in an ARM case to date,” he said. “Horse owners and animal lovers alike should be gravely concerned as to how their cases are being handled throughout the judicial system in Palm Beach County.”
One bright spot was that Assistant State Prosecutor Arco, who came under fire when she allowed the aforementioned plea deals in the case, showed more resolve during Guzman’s hearing, a positive sign from the State Attorney’s office.
Guzman’s trial date is set for March 1. Of the eight individuals charged with animal cruelty felonies in these cases, four have now been seen in court, and the next group of hearings begins on December 10th.
Response from the Wellington horse community has ranged from online outrage, to a tepid response as far as in-person action. A crime prevention meeting was held at the Winter Equestrian Festival showgrounds on the evening of December 3rd to address resident’s concerns. While it was thinly attended this early on before winter season has officially begun, ARM was encouraged by this first step, and is planning subsequent awareness and fundraising events.
“A strong presence at these meetings, hearings and court dates are important and necessary to send a clear message to the community, the prosecutors, judges and most importantly the offenders of the crimes, that these actions are not acceptable of tolerated in this community, or period,” said ARM representative Rachel Taylor.
Occurring as it is so close to the multi-million dollar show jumping industry in Wellington, there’s no question that the outcome of this case has become a high priority for horse owners in the area. Whether or not justice will be served remains to be seen.