Thursday, December 4, 2008
Sugarcreek Livestock Auction owner fined $162,800 by USDA
By Joseph Ledford
Local Edition Editor
The Sugarcreek Livestock Auction has gained notoriety as of late due to owner Leroy H. Baker’s long-standing practice of buying and selling horses for slaughter. The facility has been the target of TV news investigations and animal rights groups. On Memorial Day weekend, a non-profit group known as Pure Thoughts Horse Rescue bought 163 horses and donkeys at the auction, saving them from so-called “kill buyers.”
Now, Baker has attracted the attention of the federal government as he has been ordered by the United States Department of Agriculture to pay a civil penalty of $162,800 for multiple violations of the Commercial Transportation of Equines for Slaughter Act.
Kevin Shea, acting administrator of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) branch of the USDA, filed a complaint against Baker on March 11 of this year alleging that Baker and/or those he employed violated the CTES Act while shipping horses from Sugarcreek to Texas for slaughter between the dates of March 26, 2003 and January 7, 2007.
Baker, during a brief telephone interview with The Budget, called the violations “bogus” and questioned why, if he was indeed in violation, did the USDA wait so long to address the issue. Attempts at a follow-up interview with Baker were unsuccessful.
Listed in USDA docket 08-0074 are more than 30 dates containing multiple violations, most having to do with improperly completed or incomplete paperwork such as statements indicating that horses had been rested, watered and fed for at least six consecutive hours prior to being loaded for commercial transportation. However, the most notable violations listed in the docket have to do with animal well-being and health issues. For example:
• On March 31, 2003, a shipment of 85 horses were on their way from Sugarcreek to BelTex Corporation in Fort Worth, Texas when a dark/brown horse with no back tag died. The horse was not taken to the nearest APHIS office to allow a veterinarian to examine the body.
• On May 22, 2005, a gelding with a severe cut on its left rear leg and unable to bear weight on all four limbs was shipped with other horses. Baker and/or his driver allegedly did not handle the injured horse as quickly or carefully as possible to prevent any unnecessary discomfort, stress, trauma or physical harm to the animal. Another such incident was documented in July of 2005. Also in July, a horse in physical distress was documented as falling down three times while en route to a Dallas slaughter house, yet no veterinarian services were obtained.
The horse died and apparently no APHIS veterinarian was contacted to examine the body.
• On June 11, 2006, a bay mare with a severe, pre-existing and badly infected cut on its right shoulder was shipped with other horses.
• On July 16, 2006, Baker shipped 41 horses in a conveyance with large holes in the roof, failing to provide transportation that protected the health and well-being of the horses.
According to the 25 page docket, Baker was served a letter on March 17 of this year advising him of the APHIS complaint, but he did not file an answer to the complaint within the 20 day time period, which constitutes an admission to the allegations in the complaint and a waiver of a hearing. Baker also did not answer to a follow up letter advising him of Shea’s motion for a default decision and order. As a result, Administrative Law Judge Jill S. Clifton handed down a decision on October 1 that Baker pay the fine and also cease and desist from violating the Commercial Transportation of Equine for Slaughter Act.
Baker filed a timely appeal petition on November 5 in which he denied the allegations in Shea’s complaint. However, on November 17, Judicial Officer William G. Jenson upheld Clifton’s decision for the fine, citing that Baker’s response, filed more than six months after the deadline, was “far too late to be considered.”
Jenson did not adopt the cease and desist order as he ruled the Commercial Transportation of Equine for Slaughter Act had no provision for such an order. Baker must pay the $162,800 by January 16.