“Killer buyers,” associates of killer-buyers, & partners in questionable rescues
FORT POLK, Louisiana––Thompson Horse Lot owner Gary Thompson, 64, of Pitkin, Louisiana, who held a controversial contract to remove an estimated 700 to 750 wild horses from the 198,000-acre Fort Polk military installation, is facing 18 counts of cruelty to animals for alleged severe neglect of horses.
Vernon Parish Sheriff Sam Craft on March 20, 2019 announced that Thompson had been arrested, a week after a joint investigation by the Vernon Parish Sheriff’s Office and the Louisiana Livestock Brand Commission brought the impoundment of 18 of the 40 horses found at Thompson Horse Lot when the investigators executed a search warrant.
Another 22 horses were left at Thompson Horse Lot following a veterinary inspection, reported Patrick Deaville of KPLC-7 News.
“Brand Commission investigating”
“The Brand Commission is investigating the dates and locations of the purchase of the animals,” Deaville said at the time.
“Bond was set at $18,000,” Craft said after Thompson’s arrest. “Thompson posted bond and was released.”
Elaborated the Paulick Report, an online periodical chiefly serving the horse racing industry, “The investigation was launched, according to law enforcement, after numerous complaints of animal cruelty [were made] against Thompson Horse Lot, long known for its Facebook-based operation offering followers an opportunity to purchase horses or ‘bail’ animals the lot claimed were at risk for being sent to slaughter.”
Fort Polk & Peason Ridge
Thompson Horse Lot itself is believed by advocates for the Fort Polk wild horses to be a major conduit of wild horses to slaughter.
The Thompson Horse Lot raid and subsequent arrest of Gary Thompson came about two and a half months after hunters discovered the remains of five wild horses who had been massacred by persons unknown, for reasons unknown, on the Peason Ridge Military Training Area, a tract of land near Fort Polk from which wild horses have also been removed in recent years, ostensibly for adoption, but have allegedly been sold to slaughter instead.
Texas State University contract
Gary Thompson, his son Jacob Thompson, and other members of the Thompson family became involved in the Fort Polk/Peason Ridge wild horse issue after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in September 2017 awarded contracts cumulatively worth $1.75 million to the Texas State University Integrated Natural & Cultural Resources Team, headquartered at Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches, Texas, about two and a half hours’ drive to the northwest.
The funding was chiefly to “conduct archaeological surveys and support the management of cultural resources at U.S. Air Force bases and training facilities in eight states,” according a Stephen F. Austin University media release.
$80,850 of the sum, however, was allocated to removing the Fort Polk and Peason Ridge wild horses from the military property.
Jacob Thompson Cattle LLC
Wrote Lake Charles American Press reporter Pamela Sleezer, “Texas State University sought bids from local contractors surrounding Fort Polk, who would perform the hands-on task of rounding up the horses, but according to sources, the only bid” came from Jacob Thompson Cattle LLC, which operates the Thompson Horse Lot.
The Thompson Horse Lot is located about 15 miles from the Fort Polk main gate.
Jacob Thompson and other members of the Thompson family had been almost continuously in trouble since 2005 for alleged offenses involving livestock transactions occurring in Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, and Mississippi.
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, for example, in April 2014 ordered Jacob Thompson and three other members of the Thompson family to pay $245,404 to the Southeast Mississippi Livestock Association and the Livestock Producers Association for alleged violations of the Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act and the Packers & Stockyards Act.
Pleading guilty in April 2016 to first degree felony theft of livestock and second degree felony theft of property, originating from an unrelated case, Jacob Thompson was sentenced in Hopkins County, Texas to serve 10 years on probation for the first degree felony and 10 years deferred probation for the second degree felony.
Selling livestock without a permit
In January 2018, Jacob Thompson “was fined $3,150 for violating five Louisiana regulations including selling livestock without a permit,” Louisiana Department of Agriculture & Forestry spokesperson Veronica Mosgrove confirmed to Janet McConnaughey of Associated Press.
Two other members of the Thompson family, one of whom was previously convicted with Jacob Thompson, were reportedly arrested for alleged livestock theft in Allen Parish, Louisiana, as recently as June 1, 2018.
“Put up for adoption through nonprofits”
“The agreement with Thompson’s Horse Lot is to capture the horses, then put them up for adoption through nonprofit groups,” reported Lauren Lanmon of KXAN-TV in San Marcos, Texas on June 18, 2018. “However, if nonprofit groups are unable to adopt the horses and members of the public don’t step up, the horses are sold at auction and likely slaughtered.”
Todd Ahlman, director of the Stephen F. Austin University Center for Archaeological Studies, repeatedly insisted to media that all of the horses collected by the Thompsons were “adopted to nonprofit horse rescue groups,” not sold to slaughter.
But Louisiana animal advocates discovered considerable circumstantial evidence to the contrary.
Meridian Falls Ranch
Among the three “nonprofit horse rescue groups” receiving horses from Fort Polk, for instance, was Meridian Falls Ranch, of Buffalo, Texas, incorporated in August 2015 by Shandi Ann Lebron. Lebron, like Jacob Thompson, had a multi-count history of arrests for alleged offenses involving livestock.
Forty-four horses rounded up at Fort Polk and Peason Ridge in May and June 2018 were reportedly transferred through Meridian Falls Ranch to the Elkhart Horse Auction in Elkhart, Texas.
Reported Pamela Sleezer of the Lake Charles American Press on August 5, 2018, “Earlier this year, TSU ended its contract with Fort Polk, which resulted in [Jacob] Thompson losing his contract to round up the horses.”
But that left many and perhaps most of the 200 horses removed from Fort Polk and Peason Ridge in 2018 still unaccounted for.
Gary Thompson was the second longtime horse trader and purported conduit of horses to rescue to be arrested for alleged cruelty in Louisiana during the first few months of 2019.
The first, Thompson associate Hal Parker, 60, was arrested in Marion, Union Parish, on February 19, 2019, charged with four counts of cruelty to animals and one count of horse theft.
Union Parish is about three hours’ drive northeast of Fort Polk, near the Arkansas state line.
Parker “was taken into custody following a five-week investigation into his involvement in acquiring horses, mostly thoroughbreds, from auction houses known for selling animals for slaughter, that Parker would then re-sell, according to a Union Parish Sheriff’s Office press release,” wrote Eric Mitchell of Bloodhorse.
“Paid for horse never received”
The theft charge, Mitchell said, is “related to allegations that a woman in Iowa paid for a horse she never received, according to the sheriff’s office. Parker’s bond was set at $250,000.”
Union Parish Sheriff Dusty Gates told media that his office “began investigating Parker,.” Mitchell summarized, “after the National Thoroughbred Welfare Organization published an online article on August 29, 2018, about the efforts of a rescue organization named ICareIHelp,” operated by Dina Alborano of Trenton, New Jersey, “to raise money online in order to buy horses from kill pen auctions.”
Alborano, 52, a regionally noted runner at the 5-kilometer and 10-kilometer distances from age 9 until her mid-thirties, “had a meteoric rise in the world of thoroughbred horse rescue after a January 16, 2018 article written about her by veteran racing writer Steve Haskin,” recounted Victoria Keith of the National Thoroughbred Welfare Organization, in the August 2018 exposé that Gates cited, published by the Paulick Report.
“Questions bubbling to the surface”
“But questions about Alborano and ICareIHelp started bubbling to the surface,” Keith wrote. “The first was that ICareIHelp was not a non-profit, as stated on its website. More disturbing, however, was that Alborano had chosen as the quarantine and care provider for her organization a man named Hal Parker. Hal Parker is a former employee of the Stanley Brothers, one of the largest and most notorious kill buyer organizations in the country.
“After leaving the Stanleys,” Keith charged, “Parker continued extorting horses via his Facebook pages for various owners and perhaps himself. He partnered with Alborano in late 2017 and worked almost exclusively for ICareIHelp until recently, when he also started fronting for Thompson’s Horse Lot.”
Horses found in Parker’s possession, at multiple locations, were reportedly malnourished and suffering from a variety of contagious diseases, including strangles.
Horses unaccounted for
Of 181 horses Parker is believed to have acquired from kill pens in the name of rescue, 55 could not be accounted for.
“According to the sheriff’s office press release,” Mitchell of Bloodhorse continued, “investigators found that Parker and ICareIHelp would appeal for money in order to rescue thoroughbreds from kill pens and then advertise the horses for resale on the organization’s website, ‘complete with photographs showing healthy horses. Those horses were then delivered, often in emaciated conditions or with diseases,’ the sheriff’s office release stated.”
Added Mitchell, “State vets visited the properties where Parker kept horses and filed disease investigation reports at least seven times between February and August of 2018, according to public records supplied to BloodHorse by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture & Forestry.”
ICareIHelp “no longer actively rescuing”
The ICareIHelp web site currently states, “icareihelp is no longer actively rescuing, as we are no longer accepting donations.”
Concluded Victoria Keith, “Most horse rescues and individuals knowledgeable about rescue believe that it’s generally unwise to purchase or ‘bail’ horses from a kill pen. It doesn’t make those individuals heartless. They detest seeing the horses being extorted on social media, but they know that if they pay the kill buyers then that money will be used to buy and extort the next batch of horses. It’s a vicious and painful cycle for the horses and horse lovers, and big business for kill buyers. The extortion business pays them double, triple, or even quadruple what they are paid by the slaughter plant. Slaughter buyers will never stop extorting horses until their clients stop ‘bailing’ them.
“In the meantime,” Keith finished, “legitimate rescues are paying the price. Donations are down, adoptions are down, and the price to outbid slaughter buyers at livestock auctions has increased so high that it’s driven most rescues and private buyers out of the livestock auction market.”