Agencies issue hundreds of citations in Miami swoop

January 14, 2010

by Neil Clarkson

Hundreds of citations were issued in a notorious part of Miami this week as agencies began a campaign to shut down illegal slaughter farms which commonly butcher horses.


Richard "Kudo" Couto
Campaigner Richard "Kudo" Couto said Tuesday's operation, which involved federal, state and county agencies, was long overdue, but very welcome.

He told Horsetalk the operation was based on evidence and information he had gathered in his push to have the illegal slaughter farms shut down.

Couto became aware of the farms about two years ago when working with the SPCA.

He estimates upwards of 100 unlicensed and unregulatied backyard slaughter farms are openly operating, centred around the C-91 Basin, just 15 minutes by car from glitzy South Beach.

Couto said the agency push had been planned for about two weeks and he credited Miami-Dade County state attorney Katherine Rundle with pushing hard to make it happen.

He estimate 15-20 agencies were involved, ranging from those covering environmental, building and zoning requirements, to the United States Department of Agriculture.

A tent and mobile control unit were set up near the basin for the operation, which ran from 6am until about 5pm.

"It was one of the largest operations in the history of Florida," he said.

"The presence of enforcement agencies really was amazing."

Couto said he provided the agencies with a list of many properties, but six in particular were targeted on this occasion.

"There were hundreds of citations written."

He said his own disappointment from the day was the lack of arrests made by Miami-Dade police. "My understanding is that they were not equipped to make arrests.

"This was a serious operation. They should have been better equipped to arrest the slaughterers and butchers."

He said he was unsure how many of those giving citations would actually show up in court.

"On every farm they found large slaughter operations," he said.

"Each agency went to these properties. They threw the book at them."

He had yet to talk to the agencies, but he understood evidence was uncovered pointing to the slaughter of horses, which is the most profitable meat for the backyard butchers.

The buoyant black market in horse flesh is fuelled by the taste many Miami-Dade residents of Cuban origin have for the meat.

"This was the first operation," he said. "There are going to be more. This is going to be an ongoing thing."

Couto said followup was crucial to long-term efforts to shut the slaughter operations.

Agencies had on occasion shut down backyard butchers in the past, but there was no followup. Within a few days the farms were operating again.

He was not aware of any farms being shut down, but utilities such as power and water were cut to some, which he said was a concern if animals were on the property.

"Some of these sites have hundreds of animals."

Recent publicity around the slaughter farms, in particular a CNN news item, had seen him receive 30,000 emails.

He had friends helping him respond to them.

Many people were prepared to provide the animals with life-long homes.

"I have homes for these animals. I just need to be able to [have the legal right] to seize them."

Couto's campaign has seen him receive death threats from those behind the flourishing trade.

"The people who are running these farms are extremely violent people ... the worst of the worst. I've had my life threatened numerous times."

The meat trade is also behind the widely publicised butchering of pet horses, the remains of which are usually left on roadsides or found by the horse owner in the animal's stall the next morning.

At least 22 horses around Miami-Dade and neighbouring Broward County met that fate last year.

Couto left his work with the South Florida SPCA and set up his own organisation, the Animal Recovery Mission, to carry on his work.

It is dedicated to stopping illegal horse slaughter and the shutdown of illegal slaughter farms.