A federal investigation has concluded most of the 1700 wild horses sold to Colorado rancher and livestock hauler Tom Davis went to slaughter in Mexico.
The Office of Inspector General (OIG) launched an inquiry after receiving allegations in 2012 that Davis bought about 1700 wild horses through the Wild Horse and Burro Program run by the Bureau of Land Management Wild (BLM) and wrongfully sent them to slaughter.
The report, released on Friday, found that the BLM’s Office of Law Enforcement had investigated similar allegations of slaughter in June 2012. Its staff interviewed Davis twice, but did not determine if the horses he obtained from the program went to slaughter.
The OIG conducted its own investigation independently, during which Davis admitted that most of the horses that he purchased through the program ultimately went to slaughter.
“We determined that BLM did not follow current law while managing the Wild Horse and Burro Program,” the report said. The agency had also failed to follow its own policy of limiting horse sales and ensuring that the horses sold went to good homes and were not slaughtered, it found.
The OIG launched its probe on October 11, 2012, citing allegations in a news report that the 1700 wild horses in question had been sent to Mexico for slaughter.
The OIG outlined its interview with Davis. “When asked how many of the 1700 horses Davis purchased from the Wild Horse and Burro Program were sent to Mexico, Davis replied, ‘Probably close to all of them’.
“He added that he may have received one ‘good’ horse from each load of horses he received from BLM.
“Davis said that he bought the ‘unadoptables’ that BLM had to get rid of and that he could get rid of them.”
However, Davis denied that he transported the horses directly to slaughter.
“He said he knew the horses would be sent to Mexico, but he never crossed the border. He explained that prior to purchasing horses from the Wild Horse and Burro Program he made arrangements with buyers — whose names he would not disclose — who transported the horses to Mexico.”
Davis said he told a marketing specialist with the wild horse program that he was not selling the horses to slaughter.
“He also said he knew he was not supposed to sell the horses to anyone that would take them to a slaughterhouse or ‘make any money out of them’. Davis added, however, that he knew where the horses would be taken because there was only ‘one place to go … to the kill plant’.”
Davis bought the horses from the agency by the truckload, which typically comprised 35 horses, and paid $US10 per horse. He told investigators he could sell a load of 35 horses for about $US3500 to $US4000 and make $US2500 to $US3000 in profit on each sale.”
The report continued: “He said that if he could obtain 10,000 horses from BLM and bypass his buyers, he would take them directly to Mexico himself because he could sell them for $US100 each and quit.
“Davis opined that in selling him so many loads of horses, BLM had to know that the horses would end up at a slaughterhouse.”
Investigators tried without success to interview one supposed kill buyer, whose firm reportedly exported nearly 12,000 horses per year to Mexico, after Davis had mentioned his name. Davis said he had sold his friend, who owned Southwest Livestock in Los Lunas, New Mexico, some horses, but not BLM freeze-marked animals. The owner declined to be interviewed.
OIG investigators went on to interview a New Mexico Department of Agriculture brand inspector, who said he routinely performed the required brand inspections on all livestock transported from Southwest Livestock
“The brand inspector admitted, though, that he did not visually inspect this facility’s horses, and relied upon the accuracy of paperwork prepared by the facility’s owner.”
The brand inspector did not know if any of these horses were BLM freeze-marked horses that Davis sold to the firm.
In addition, a US Department of Agriculture-certified veterinarian was required to inspect all of Southwest Livestock’s horses and sign International Health Certificates (IHCs) before they were exported to Mexico.
“We interviewed a private USDA-certified veterinarian, who routinely provided veterinary services to animals at Southwest Livestock and signed IHCs prior to the horses being transported to Mexico for slaughter.
“The veterinarian admitted that the Southwest Livestock owner prepared all IHCs, and the veterinarian signed them without inspecting the horses.
“The veterinarian said that if there was a health issue, the facility’s owner or the Mexican veterinarians would identify the issue before import to Mexico.
“Since the veterinarian did not inspect the horses, he did not know if any were BLM freeze-marked horses Davis sold to Southwest Livestock.”
The IOG’s review of the IHCs and a USDA slaughter logbook related to the shipment of horses by Southwest Livestock into Mexico between 2008 and 2012 stated that the horses were not identified by freeze marks.
“We subpoenaed financial and business records from both Davis and the owner of Southwest Livestock.
“We found sales invoices documenting instances in which the owner of Southwest Livestock purchased horses from Davis that correlated closely to purchases Davis made from BLM.
“For example, on February 16, 2012, BLM sold 36 wild horses to Davis from its Cañon City, Colorado, facility. Davis then sold 39 horses to Southwest Livestock on February 18.
“While these invoices did not reflect whether the horses were BLM freeze-marked horses, they confirmed that Southwest Livestock was one of Davis’ buyers.
“We also subpoenaed Davis’ telephone records and found numerous calls made between March 2009 and November 2012 to the owner of Southwest Livestock.”
The OIG said of the BLM: “A review of archived emails for relevant Department of the Interrior employees found no evidence that BLM employees were pressured to sell horses to Davis.
“Although we found various discussions concerning allegations that Davis was sending BLM horses to slaughter, none of these discussions yielded evidence that BLM employees sold horses to Davis knowing that he was doing so.”
The OIG interviewed a marketing specialist with the Wild Horse and Burro Program who approved the sales to Davis. The marketing specialist explained that before she approved a buyer for a sale, the buyer had to complete a telephone application.
She said that if she was satisfied with the answers, none of which were validated or verified, then she approved the application. The applicant could then purchase horses or burros immediately and did not need to requalify for subsequent purchases.
In January 2008, the marketing specialist had interviewed Davis as part of the sales application process.
During the interview, the marketing specialist said, Davis told her that he might sell the horses but not to slaughter. Davis agreed that any horses he sold would go to good homes.
The marketing specialist approved his application.
Due to the agency updating its sales application form, the marketing specialist had Davis complete two more applications, in January 2011 and April 2012. In these applications, Davis said he was turning the horses out on oil leases to graze, or was selling them to good homes in groups of 10 to 30 as pasture pets.
“The marketing specialist said she never had any reason to doubt the information on Davis’ applications, even after he refused to tell her who he sold the horses to because he did not want BLM to ‘hone’ in on his market.
“The marketing specialist said that for each purchase, Davis completed a bill of sale stating that he agreed not to knowingly sell or transfer ownership of any wild horse or burro to any person or organization with the intent to resell the animal to slaughter.
“The marketing specialist said she asked Davis after each purchase what he was doing with the horses, and he told her they were going to good homes.”
Davis, in another BLM interview involving a senior BLM advisor, said he was not reselling the horses and claimed that he transported them to wealthy friends who wanted the horses for their property and a tax break.
The senior advisor believed Davis to be credible.
The OIG observed: “Despite receiving information between 2009 and 2012 that Davis requested and received a large number of horses and was sending horses to slaughter, Wild Horse and Burro officials said there was no evidence of wrongdoing to prompt them to stop selling to Davis or to conduct further background checks or inspections.”
The OIG said it referred its investigation to the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado, which declined both civil and criminal prosecution. The State of Colorado Conejos County District Attorney’s Office also declined to file charges against Davis.
It also referred the public health issue concerning a USDA-certified veterinarian signing health certificates without inspecting the horses to the US Attorney’s Office for the District of New Mexico. It formally declined prosecution.
The BLM, in its response to the report, said the agency took “very seriously” the finding that most of the 1700 horses sold to Davis went to slaughter, contrary to the terms of the BLM’s sale. The agency no longer had any business relationship with Davis.
Steven Ellis, the deputy general of operations for the Department of the Interior, said the BLM had taken additional steps to strengthen its ability to prevent this type of situation from happening.
Ellis noted that BLM staff had made repeated efforts to determine what plans David had for the horses he was buying.
“Unfortunately, these practices were not strong enough to prevent Mr Davis’s deceitful actions.”
A new policy since December 2012 meant that approval from a senior BLM official was required for any sale of more than four horses for any individual within six months.
Ellis noted that both the US Attorney’s Office in Colorado and the Conejos County District Attorney’s Office had both declined civil and criminal prosecution.
“Accordingly, there is no further action that the BLM may take specific to Mr Davis.”
The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign said it had taken more than three years for the OIG to confirm what it had always known – that the BLM had sold 1795 federally-protected wild horses to a known kill buyer who sold them to slaughter.
“Unfortunately, there will be no justice for these mustangs, who suffered brutal deaths in Mexican slaughter plants,” its director, Suzanne Roy, said.
“No one at the BLM is being held accountable for this betrayal, and Tom Davis is not being prosecuted for violating his contractual obligation to not sell the horses for slaughter.”
She continued: “The solution to wild horse management is not selling horses and burros for slaughter. It’s time for BLM to stop rounding up wild horses and burros, stop stockpiling them in holding facilities and start managing them humanely on-the-range using the safe and effective PZP fertility control vaccine, as recommended by the National Academy of Sciences.”
The full OIG report can be read here.