Lawsuit: Graphic video of animal slaughtering

11:41 PM, Dec 4, 2012   |    comments
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Video: Lawsuit: Graphic video of animal slaughtering

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CITRUS PARK, Florida - Jorge Ortega was arrested for selling horse meat back in November. On Tuesday, a civil lawsuit was  filed against two Hillsborough County farms. Investigators say 26-year-old Ortega worked at one of the farms, where detectives say there were health code violations, animal cruelty, and illegal slaughtering.

The farms sued by the national nonprofit Animal Legal Defense Fund are the Cuesta Farm, which is also known as "Quality Cattle," and Planchart Farm, which is also known as BP Screens. Both of the farms are in the Citrus Park area.

Either way, the images allegedly captured at those farms are difficult to watch. You see a man shoot a pig and then drag it away.

In another clip, a woman holds a goat while a man slits the animal's throat. The founder and head investigator of ARM, Animal Recovery Mission out of Miami, said the young goat was butchered alive.

Richard "Kudo" Couto said he went undercover for a year to capture the images at the farms after nearby neighbors contacted him saying the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office wasn't doing enough.

Couto said, "We have damning information in these slaughter houses, everything from butchering animals alive for human consumption, their meat going into the food chain in Hillsborough County. I guess you could say that we did outperform the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Department."

But John Horney, who's lived right across the street from Cuesta Farm for the past ten years, is crying foul and said Couto is a troublemaker. Horney is defending his neighbor's business.
"I've never seen them people do anything wrong. They don't mistreat their animals. They make all the sick animals they get healthy and it really irritates me that people come out here starting s***."

But one of the attorneys in the civil case said nearby neighbors,  including a veteran who suffers from post traumatic stress disorder, feel helpless and they want their day in court. Attorney Tim Martin said, "The noise of the gunshots, because he's a neighbor of the farms, it affects him very negatively. He's often found having to hide from the noise."

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said it conducted an extensive investigation and it said it didn't find any mass animal slaughtering going on.

Here's an outline of the HCSO investigation:

• June 10, 2011 - Richard Couto contacts the HCSO and claims that he has knowledge of horse meat sales and a slaughter house in the area of Gardner Rd and Sheldon Road in Hillsborough County. Detective is assigned to handle this complaint.

• July 1, 2011 - A citizen notified HCSO that her horse farrier told her he observed a large amount of horse skeletons at Cuesta Farms located at 11814 Meadowdale Drive.

• From July 2011 through approximately January 2012, Couto contacts HCSO on 5 to 6 more occasions and claims that he has leads on the illegal sale of horse meat. On each occasion, a detective prepares for an investigative operation, and on each occasion Couto calls the operation off at the last minute saying that the deal has fallen through.

• February 18, 2012 - Controlled call by USDA is made to Jose Ortega Jr. to purchase horse meat. Horse meat is unavailable at the time.

• February 19, 2012 - Controlled buy of horse meat at the direction of USDA was made from Georges Farm located at 6327 Gant Rd. Meat tested positive for equine species.

• February 29, 2012 - Package received from A.R.M. containing a pamphlet and several DVD's.

• March 28, 2012 - Controlled buy made from an unidentified female at 9614 Central Ave, Tampa, under direction of USDA. Meat tested positive for equine species. SAO declined to prosecute.

• March 31, 2012 - Assisted the USDA (at their request) with a site inspection at Georges Farm located at 6327 Gant Rd. No evidence of horse slaughter for sale of horse meat for human consumption.

• April 25, 2012 - Lab Analysis Reports Evidence from the USDA and copies of the videos from previous incidents was received and secured into evidence.

• April 30, 2012 - Arrest Affidavit completed on Jose Ortega Jr., direct charges filed to the SAO.

• June 12, 2012, a local TV station began running news stories regarding a number of farms allegedly engaged in horse slaughter and inhumane animal practices in the Citrus Park area. Richard Couto was the primary source in the stories.

• June 22, 2012 - The HCSO attempted to purchase horse meat from Tampa Steaks located at 1720 W. Columbus Drive. No horse meat was being sold.

• June 26, 2012 - The HCSO attempted to purchase horse meat from the Latin America Super Market located at 7601 Palm River Rd. No horse meat was being sold.

• June 28, 2012 - Meeting held at the HCSO with Richard Couto. During this meeting, offers were made to Richard Couto to use him and any members of his organization as confidential informants to provide information about illegal slaughter and sale of horse meat. Mr. Couto agrees and states that he will contact Sergeant Raburn via email upon his (Couto's) return from vacation.

• July 3, 2012 - Couto was contacted to set up follow-up meeting.

• July 9, 2012 - Couto contacted the HCSO in attempt to schedule follow-up meeting.

• July 20, 2012 - Surveillance conducted at multiple farms, no signs of horse slaughter for sale of meat for human consumption.

• July 23, 2012 - Couto contacted the HCSO requesting proposal for joint operation between himself and the HCSO.

• July 24, 2012 - Manatee County Sheriff's Office contacted; no complaints of horse slaughter or sale of horse meat. Neighborhood survey and surveillance conducted, with no information of horse slaughter or sale of horse meat.

• July 25, 2012 - Pasco County Sheriff's Office contacted; no complaints of horse slaughter or sale of horse meat. Surveillance was conducted at multiple farms, no evidence of horse slaughter or sale of horse meat.

• July 25, 2012 - Miami Dade PD Agricultural Crimes contacted. MDPD stated Couto sensationalizes reports of animal abuse and horse slaughter to get himself on the news for publicity purposes. Stated most if not all of the "investigations" he claims to have done in Miami were actually MDPD investigation, and he came in after the fact and took pictures and video and posted them on his website as his own investigations. The MDPD official stated that in many cases, the pictures and video were scenes where an animal died of natural causes or unknown means, and he represented them as cases of abuse or slaughter or ritual killings with NO substantiating evidence.

• July 26, 2012 - Large veterinarian services in Hillsborough County contacted: no complaints of horse slaughter or sale of horse meat.

• July 27, 2012 - The HCSO contacted Couto via email offering dates to meet.

• July 27, 2012 - Daniels & Daniels Equine Services contacted; no complaints of horse slaughter or sale of horse meat.

• July 27, 2012 - Contacted Humane Society local and national level, no complaints of horse slaughter or sale of horse meat for human.

• August 2, 2012 - Surveillance conducted at multiple farms, no evidence of horse slaughter or sale of horse meat for human consumption.

• August 7, 2012 - Couto contacted to set up meeting. Couto not available to meet. Surveillance conducted at Cuesta Farms located at 11814 Meadowdale Dr, a skinny horse with visible rib bones observed. Animal control contacted. There was no evidence of horse slaughter for sale of meat for human consumption.

• August 30, 2012- Couto contacted the HCSO stating he would not be able to assist any longer. Couto provided no investigative leads or information from this point.

• September 27, 2012 - Couto contacted the HCSO via email requesting status of investigation.

• September 29, 2012 - Couto contacted the HCSO via email requesting status of investigation. The HCSO contacted Couto via email informing him an active investigation is underway, no further information will be released.

• September 30, 2012 - Couto contacted the HCSO requesting action be taken against the illegal slaughter farms.

• October 1, 2012 - Site visit conducted at Cuesta Farms, no evidence of horse slaughter for sale of horse meat for human consumption.

• October 2, 2012 - Meetings with several doctors of veterinarian medicine were conducted, no complaints of horse slaughter or sale of horse meat.

• October 10, 2012 - Neighborhood surveys conducted at multiple farms, negative results were met.

• October 11, 2012 - Contacted Couto, he is now "more concerned with illegal slaughters not so much horse meat".

• October 12, 2012 - Contacted Miami Dade SAO, unable to reach ASA.

• October 12, 2012 - Contacted Humane Society, no complaints of horse slaughter or sale of horse meat.

• October 12, 2012 - Contacted Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, no complaints of horse slaughter or sale of horse meat.

• October 12, 2012 - Contacted Polk County Sheriff's Office, no complaints of horse slaughter or sale of horse meat.

• October 15, 2012 - Contacted Miami Dade SAO, ASA advised Couto may not act as a CI.

• October 15, 2012 - Couto's DVD reviewed of pig slaughter. Incident appeared to be in accordance with FSS 828.23(6).

• October 24, 2012 - Site visit was conducted at Braulio Hernandez's farm located at 7722 Gardner Rd, no evidence of horse slaughter or sale of horse meat.

• November 6, 2012 - Jorge Ortega arrested for sale of horse meat for human consumption.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office has closed the investigation until new or additional information is received involving alleged illegal activity.

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