MOUNT VERNON — According to reports from the U.S. Department of Agriclture, Leroy H. Baker Jr., proprietor of the Sugarcreek livestock auction, has failed to pay fines levied against him by the federal government for transportation violations involving horses sold for slaughter.
Since the slaughter of horses has become restricted in the United States, a brisk trade has emerged for “kill buyers” to purchase lots of unwanted or sickly horses at Baker’s establishment, then ship them to processing plants, sometimes over international borders in Mexico or Canada, for processing into meat. The meat is then sold as food in parts of the world where horses are regarded as livestock, not pets.
In recent years, the Sugarcreek facility has averaged shipping out 1,000 horses per year for slaughter, according to the USDA. The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection System filed complaints against Baker in 2008, alleging that the Sugarcreek auction made repeated violations of shipping regulations from 2003-07. The charges include the improper filling out of required paperwork, failure to submit paperwork affirming that horses were watered, fed and rested for at least six hours before the non-stop semi-trailer shipment, failure to report the death of horses during shipment, failure to separate stallions from geldings within shipments, and failure to handle blind or injured horses carefully.
The USDA levied fines totaling $162,800 for the above violations. Due to be paid last month, the fines have not yet been paid. At the time the charges were filed, Baker was instructed to reply within 20 days if he contested the charges. Baker did not reply, which the government regulations cite as an official admission of guilt. Baker finally responded almost eight months later, filing a petition on Nov. 17, 2008, to reconsider the charges.
Baker cited four points in his petition. First, that he was entitled to a hearing. Second, that if there were any problems with paperwork or procedure, he should have been informed at the time of the infractions, not later. Third, Baker said 95 percent of the allegations against him were false, and fourth, he said he can’t afford to pay the civil penalty assessed against him.
In early December, APHIS Acting Administrator Kevin Shea referred the petition to federal Judicial Officer William G. Jenson. On Dec. 15, Jenson determined that no regulation guarantees a hearing to any found in violation of the equine shipment act, that the authorities are likewise not required to inform the violator of instances in any particular time frame, that Baker waved his chance to dispute the charges when he didn’t reply initially, and that whether or not he can afford it, Baker will be held responsible for the penalties.
With the denial of his petition, Baker’s original deadline was reinstated. According to the USDA, Baker failed to pay the penalties in February.
Baker could not be reached for comment Friday, but has previously spoken with the News to defend his work against attacks from animal rights activists.
“We’ve killed horses since the beginning of time,” Baker said during an auction attended by the News in October 2007. “I’m not for it and I’m not against it. Everybody’s got more important things in the world to worry about.”