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MADERA (KPIX 5) — They were called Lacey and Squirt, two professional rodeo horses and beloved pets. But they ended up sold for meat on someone’s dinner plate overseas.
In a landmark case, a suspect has been charged with delivering at least one of them to slaughter.
The case is the talk of the town in Madera. Sheriff John Anderson has arrested a well-known businessman for an almost unheard of crime. “He will be treated no differently than anyone else,” Anderson said.
Billy Ray Brown Jr., son of the owner of the local B and B Livestock auction, is accused of sending a horse called Lacey out of state to slaughter for human consumption.
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That is a felony in California. A law was passed in 1998 to protect horses. This is the first time that it has ever been enforced.
Brown is a familiar face at B and B: He is the auctioneer.
So how did he get Lacey? Detective Adam McEwen said his investigation started when Lacey’s owner reported her and another horse called Squirt missing.
The owner told the detective that he had given the horses to Summer Rose Tex, a brand inspector with the California Department of Food and Agriculture, whom he trusted, and whom he says promised to take them to Harris farms to retire.
But instead, according to arrest records, she admitted to the owner that she had lied about where she had taken them.
Tex admitted selling them to a horse dealer, who McEwen later learned sold them to Billy Brown.
A paper trail led the detective across three states from California to Oregon, Washington, and across the border to a slaughterhouse in Canada.
“I visited this slaughterhouse in an undercover capacity,” said Eric Sakach, a senior investigator with the Humane Society of the United States.
The Humane Society supports the SAFE Act, a bill that would ban the export of horses to slaughter for human consumption.
“In many cases you will see the stunner hit the horse five, six times before they are actually going down and staying down,” he said.
Sakach said California is one of the only states that bans shipping horses here. And yet in 2013 over 140,000 horses went to slaughter, and many of those horses came from California.
KPIX 5 couldn’t find Brown, but did meet up with his father, Billy Brown Sr. “There’s nothing to be said, instructions from the attorney, until its done,” he said. Then he proceeded to kick us out.
McEwen and his boss Sheriff Anderson said they are confident there will be a conviction, because Brown admitted using a fake name in the deal.
“He picked the name out of the phone book,” said McEwen.
But McEwen said the signature was just like Brown’s.
“It was painfully obvious that it had been forged. We asked him, ‘If this deal you are saying is legit, then why not use your own information?’” the detective said.
He said Brown told him that from selling horses in the past that he had aroused the suspicion of Canadian authorities. At one time or another they inquired why he was bringing so many horses to the facility.
Summer Rose Tex faces grand theft charges in the case. Her attorney said she never made any promises to the owner of the horses and had no idea they were going to go to slaughter. She is on administrative leave while the Department of Food and Agriculture investigates.