It took only a short time before three of eight men involved in illegal and inhumane slaughter activities were offered plea deals, which they immediately accepted. When Richard Couto of Animal Recovery Mission [ARM] learned of these speedy deals, he was unmistakably perplexed. Normally his organization, in lieu of a victim, is conferred with or at least notified about potential plea discussions. Moreover, plea deals generally take a long time to resolve. It is only Nov. 11 and already three men have taken plea deals which had not been discussed.
The men worked at three slaughter farms which were closed down in an enormous raid on Oct. 13 involving Animal Recovery Mission and 150 police officers. The huge animal search, seizure and closure of Rancho Garcia, G.A. Paso Fino and Medina Farm in Loxahatchee locations in Florida were truly significant in animal cruelty history. The takedown involved the remarkable cooperation between the ARM which divulged the evidence and the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office which organized the concurrent infiltration of the properties. Over 750 slaughter-bound animals of various species were seized, and many of them were immediately brought to safety. Couto highly praised the efforts of Sheriff Ric Bradshaw.
The slaughter farms were shut down and Palm Beach County State attorney Dave Aronberg soon brought charges against eight owners and employees of the farms. Some of the men were only charged with two felonies each instead of the expected seven. Surprisingly low bail amounts were set for the men.
Then, less than a month after this massive action, the plea deals occurred but Couto received no notification. Edgar Bica, 49, received a sentence of five months in the Palm Beach County Jail, given credit for the 25 days he had already spent behind bars, and then probation, his father Edegar Bica, 83, and Rodobaldo Diaz, 47, both of Paso Fino, each received only probation “in return for admissions of animal cruelty.” The younger Bica at the time of court was already on probation [conviction for two charges of animal cruelty: untreated near death hunting dog after wild hog goring and for an emaciated goat on his property].
The process to capture evidence on these slaughter farms to substantiate the crimes were arduous and time consuming. Animal Recovery Mission insinuated individuals into the farms who worked undercover for five months. Couto said the farms were befriended and videos captured the brutal actions. Some of the humane practices caught on film included boiling live pigs and the slaughter of horses for their meat.
When arrests were made after the raid on the three farms, officials told the media that Bicas and employee Diaz and the others tortured and cruelly slaughtered animals. They also ran a puppy mill and cock fighting. When they appeared in court, they admitted to killing cows and goats and that their slaughter methods were standard in their native country. But Florida law requires animals must be humanely killed.
Prosecutor Judy Arco told the press, the Post saying, “There’s absolutely not a single video, not any single piece of evidence, that horse slaughter occurred on any of these three farms.” She also said that there was no evidence that live pigs were being boiled nor any other animals were abused.
When Couto read this, he was initially under the impression she had been misquoted. Couto said,
She had an extremely solid case handed to her on a silver platter and turned it into a joke… They’re selling out the main witnesses in an ongoing case. Why would you do that? Other than wanting to sabotage your own case? She has deliberately sabotaged the case by comments she has made in court and to the press.
According to the State Attorney’s Office, staff members “are refraining from comment because related cases remain open.”
Couto said that during the Paso Fino raid, there many pounds of horse meat found in freezers. ARM had meat samples tested by a laboratory. Couto noted, “Two arrests have been made [for that]. We have given her hours of conversation while these people are cutting up horses in front of us. Videos are in her [Arco’s] possession. These farms are well-known in the community. On the day of the strike, they didn’t find carcasses, but they get rid of that as soon as they slaughter the animals.
Couto said that Arco is “basically discrediting ARM as an investigator in Palm Beach.” ARM was in the slaughter farms for months and left no loopholes. The correct steps was taken by law enforcement and the cases were solid. He emphasized,
It sends a strong message to the people committing these crimes. They think, ‘We’re making so much money — if we get arrested, we’re just going to face a slap on the wrist like our buddies do.’ It’s a shameful thing for the animals in that county and for animal lovers in that county.
At this time, Couto is urging animal lovers to get in touch with State Attorney’s Office Defense Fund to bring pressure. He has also started a petition: Enforce Maximum Penalties to Animal killers of Palm Beach County Slaughter Farms.
Crimes such as these often end with barely a slap on the wrist. Hopefully appropriate charges can be dealt and the public will not stand for these light plea deals. Maybe the farm workers can still be charged with additional felonies, Couto hopes, and maybe the defendants whose cases are still pending will face more severe punishment. “I am hoping this will show as an example to Arco,” Couto says. “The public, and certainly ARM, will not stand for a light plea deal.”