SALEM, Ohio — Leroy Baker Jr., owner and operator of Sugarcreek Livestock Auction, has been fined more than $162,000 by the USDA for violating equine transport laws.
Baker has been in the business of buying and selling horses since 1985 and Sugarcreek Livestock Auction regularly shipped more than 1,000 horses per year to slaughter plants in Texas, according to USDA.
USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) filed a complaint against Baker in March 2008, alleging he violated the Commercial Transportation of Equines for Slaughter Act.
The allegations spanned 2003-2007 and included not completely and properly filling out required owner-shipper paperwork for horses shipped from the auction facility; not contacting USDA officials to report horses that died during shipment; incorrectly identifying stallions as geldings and not separating them from the rest of the shipment; and not handling blind or injured horses “expeditiously and as carefully as possible.”
USDA also claimed multiple loads of horses were missing a written statement that indicated the animals had been rested, watered and fed for at least six consecutive hours prior to being loaded and transported.
It total, the claims pertained to some 1,345 horses hauled in 35 loads to slaughter plants.
USDA said the allegations applied not only to Baker, but also to any truck drivers who hauled for him and failed to fill in the paperwork.
USDA documents indicate Baker never responded to the allegations, which waived his right to a hearing on the matter and, by fault, admitted guilt.
USDA subsequently filed cease and desist orders against Baker, which required him to stop violations of the equine act.
The agency also fined Baker $162,800, which was to be paid by mid-February. To date, that fine has not been paid, and Baker says he can’t afford to pay it.
USDA public affairs specialist Madelaine Fletcher said if the debt isn’t paid before it’s 180 days delinquent, Baker will be responsible for paying it, plus additional fees of up to 30 percent. There are a number of other penalties that can also apply, including seizing income tax refunds, economic stimulus payments or any federal payment, Fletcher said.
In December, Leroy Baker filed a petition with USDA asking them to reconsider their decision, which was denied because he didn’t respond within the allotted time.
Baker says 95 percent of the allegations are false and he questioned why infractions of the transport act weren’t brought to his attention sooner.
“I wanted to know why, if there was a problem, they waited five or six years to do anything,” Baker said. “If there’s something wrong, you fix it now.”
“They’ve got their paperwork all mixed up, and their investigator doesn’t even know what is going on. They’ve got me going to two different [slaughter plants] with the exact same load,” he said.
“They’re bogus charges.”
Baker said he’s been shown photos that USDA is using to prove certain claims, but even those photos show inconsistencies.
For instance, a fat horse with a short tail shipped from Sugarcreek was claimed to be emaciated when it arrived in Texas 12 hours later. However, photos of that horse taken in Texas showed it with a long tail and with identification tags in different places than when the horse left Ohio.
“Now you tell me that’s the same animal,” Baker said. “If there’s a mix-up or if a horse is injured once it gets [to the plant], that’s not my responsibility.
“Everybody who gets stopped for bank robbery says they didn’t do it. But if I did wrong, I will admit it and pay for my troubles.”
Baker, whose auction facility is frequented by animal rights activists and animal rescuers, said he’s aware that horse slaughter isn’t popular with the American public. He defends it anyhow.
“What’s worse, slaughtering a horse someone can’t or won’t care for anymore, or letting it die painfully?
“I tell the animal rights people if you want to buy all the horses in the world, go ahead. But don’t prolong their agony.”