A federal investigation has determined that a Colorado livestock hauler repeatedly lied to officials and sent about 1,700 wild horses to slaughterhouses after buying them through a Bureau of Land Management program that is supposed to provide the animals with good homes.
The Department of the Interior's Office of Inspector General released a report Friday saying that between 2008 and 2012, La Jara rancher and livestock hauler Tom Davis bought 1,794 horses from the BLM's Wild Horse and Burro Program, which manages tens of thousands of mustangs that roam the West.
Wild horses are protected under federal law, and selling them for slaughter is illegal. A man who answered the phone at Davis' home Friday afternoon said Davis was out gathering cattle and would not be available for comment for at least a couple of days.
When investigators asked Davis how many of the horses he bought had been re-sold for slaughter, he told them, "Probably close to all of them," according to the report, which said he sold many of the horses to buyers near the Mexican border.
The Denver Post reported investigators found records indicating those same buyers took large numbers of horses across the border to slaughterhouses in Mexico. But because local inspectors who certified the transports often did not actually inspect the horses, the inspector general investigation could not verify that they were the same horses.
Davis, the largest buyer of wild horses in the United States, told investigators he assumed the animals would be slaughtered, saying there was only "one place to go ... to the kill plant," according to the report. He is accused of lying to BLM officials, telling them he was selling the horses to good homes, either to people wanting "pasture pets" or to people hoping to graze the animals on their land for tax breaks.
He repeatedly refused to name his buyers, and BLM officials apparently did little to follow up on where the horses went, according to the report.
Davis typically bought horses by the truckload, paying $350 for a 35-horse haul. Most, if not all, of the horses were older and had been unsuccessfully put up for adoption before. Davis told investigators he would re-sell the truckload of horses for $3,500 to $4,000.
Between 2008 and 2012, Davis spent $17,940 on horses from the BLM. Because it was the BLM's policy until 2012 to transport large sales of horses to the buyer, the agency spent more than $140,000 delivering the horses to Davis, according to the report.
In a written response provided with Friday's report, Steven Ellis, the BLM's deputy director of operations, said the agency has procedures in place to make sure wild horses go to good homes. He also lamented Davis' "deceitful actions."
"The BLM has taken additional steps to strengthen our ability to prevent this type of situation from happening," Ellis wrote.
Federal and state authorities in Colorado declined to prosecute Davis. Jeff Dorschner, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Denver, said Friday the office has a long-standing policy not to discuss why prosecutors declined to pursue charges.