Lawsuits & prosecutions rattle Northeast horse rescuers

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  March 2012:

Lawsuits & prosecutions rattle Northeast horse rescuers

SARATOGA SPRINGS,  RIVERHEAD, HARRISBURG,  BINGHAMTON–Four New York and Pennsylvania horse rescue operations,  ranging from one believed to be the largest in the U.S. to some of the smallest,  entered the 2012 spring mud season mired in controversy,  with the possibility of more muck flying as result of lawsuits filed in attempts to restore reputations.

The founders of two horse rescues were convicted of criminal charges.  Another –whose “rescue” apparently never did any rescuing–faces multiple felony counts.

TRS vs. Mellon estate
The Thoroughbed Retirement Foundation, of Saratoga Spring,   New York,  on January 5, 2012 sued Paul Mellon estate executor Frederick “Ted” Terry for defamation,  seeking damages of at least $400,000,  reported Jennifer Peltz of Associated Press.
“Mellon,  a banking heir,  was an avid horseman, breeding champions including 1993 Kentucky Derby winner Sea Hero.

Mellon died in 1999,  leaving a fortune estimated at about $1.4 billion.  A $7 million endowment from the Mellon estate provides about 12% of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s annual budget,”  Peltz recounted.

Founded in 1983,  the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation at peak in 2005 boarded more than 1,500 retired racehorses at 32 farms around the U.S.,  but has contracted while running deficits that reached $2.2 million in 2009.  A veterinarian hired by the Mellon Foundation to investigate the care of the retired horses reported in 2011 that many were starving and neglected.  A page one expose´ in The New York Times followed.

“The Mellon estate executors began insisting on control over Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation spending,  dictating staffing decisions and ultimately trying to get the foundation to sign an agreement saying none of the estate’s money would be used to pay loans, according to the lawsuit,”  wrote Peltz.  “After the foundation used the estate’s money to secure a new bank loan in August,  Terry told auditors and the New York attorney general’s office that the Mellon endowment was being misused,  the lawsuit says.”

N.Y. Horse Rescue

New York Horse Rescue president and Butler Horse Farm owner Mona Kanciper in September 2011 reportedly filed a $25 million lawsuit against the Suffolk County SPCA for bringing charges in August 2010 that led to her conviction for child endangerment.  Kanciper pledged to appeal the conviction.

Suffolk County Court Judge James Hudson on January 24,  2012 sentenced Kanciper,  49, to serve three years on probation,  during which time she may not keep dogs.  Hudson ruled that Kanciper had acceptable reason to euthanize an elderly St. Bernard,  a Great Dane mix who bit a delivery worker,  and a husky mix who killed a cat,  but improperly performed the procedure in the presence of a 10-year-old girl.

Hudson dismissed due to lack of evidence a charge that Kanciper knowingly sent a 12-year-old girl to the location where a horse was being euthanized.

The incidents occurred in 2009.  On December 6,  2009,  eight months before the charges were filed,  Kanciper’s husband,  New York Horse Rescue founder Judson L. Butler,  DVM, 75,  was fatally injured by a loose horse at the Belmont Park racetrack.

Kelsey Elva Lefever

In Harrisburg,  Pennsylvania,  a preliminary hearing for Kelsey Elva Lefever,  24, of Honey Brook,  was on February 6,  2012 postponed for two weeks.  Lefever was charged in November 2011 with one count of deceptive business practices and four counts of theft by deception for allegedly promising to rehome four retired racing thoroughbreds,  but instead selling them to killer buyer Bruce Rotz at the New Holland auction yard.

Maryland horse rescuer Sonia Meadows saw the horses in a trailer at the auction and identified them through their registration tattoos,  but too late to prevent them from being trucked to the Viande Richelieu slaughterhouse in Massueville,  Quebec,  where they were killed for meat.

Ray Paulick of The Paulick Report,  a leading horse racing industry blog,  reported that “Lefever was a regular visitor to the secured stable area” at the Penn National track in Grantsville,  Pennsylvania,  “bringing her truck and trailer to the stable area despite not being licensed in any capacity by the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission.”

Posing as a horse rescuer,  Lefever solicited donations of horses who were no longer running well,  and also received money and feed to help her care for the horses,  according to witness statements.

“There were,  however,  some skeptics like Tera Schauer of the Happy Tails Holistic Rescue Rehabilitation and Sanctuary in Paxinos, Pennsylvania,”  Paulick wrote.  “Schauer was concerned that Lefever was posting an unusually high number of ex-racehorses for sale on Facebook and noticed that when someone posed a question about one of the horses,  Lefever would reply that the horse was gone.” Eventually Deborah Jones of Thoroughbred Identification, Protection,  and Advocacy in California “notifed Schauer that Lefever had claimed to be fostering horses on behalf of Happy Tails,”   Paulick continued.

As investigators closed in,  Lefever solicited help in constructing an alibi from an acquaintance who told Pennsylvania state trooper Colleen J. Shelly,  according to Shelly’s affidavit,  that Lefever boasted of selling as many as 120 horses to slaughter.

Ton of Love

The Lefever case moved toward trial shortly after Stephanie Algiere-Hanchette of Guilford,  New York,  on November 22,  2011 pleaded guilty to reduced charges in Guilford Town Court,  after originally being arrested for alleged fraud and cruelty to animals.

Operating as A Ton of Love Draft Horse Rescue,  Algiere-Hanchette collected about $1,100 on behalf of a horse who needed hernia surgery, reported Lindsay Nielsen of WBNG-TV in Binghamton.  Chenango County sheriff’s deputies found that the horse did not receive the surgery. Twelve horses who were discovered in Algiere-Hanchette’s custody were removed from her premises due to alleged neglect.  One horse was found dead.

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