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3 plead guilty in soring conspiracy

Friday, November 11, 2011

By Brian Mosely

Special to the Tribune

Three people at the center of a conspiracy to violate the Horse Protection Act pleaded guilty in Chattanooga on Tuesday.

Barney Davis, 38, and Jeffery Bradford, 33, both of Lewisburg, and Christen Altman, 25, of Shelbyville, appeared for a federal court hearing and changed their pleas, admitting guilt.

Horses involved in these cases were shown in the Spotted Saddle Horse shows, not Tennessee walking horse shows.

Hidden Creek Stables, also known as Monopoly Farm, 1980 Verona Caney Road between Snell and Double Bridge roads, is stated as the horse-training farm where a horse named Jose Is My Daddy was sored, according to a plea agreement for Altman that mentions Davis and Bradford. Altman allegedly observed Davis and others allegedly sore the horse, the federal document states.

Such soreing is accomplished when a horse trainer would "screw large bolts into the sole area of the horse's front hooves, causing intense pressure to be applied to the area ... to create a more animated gait in the horse so it will perform better at horse shows," Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven S. Neff stated in the public document at the U.S. District Court in Chattanooga.

Davis faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Altman and Bradford each face a term of up to one year in prison and a $3,000 fine. Sentencing for the three is set for Feb. 13.

Meanwhile, an additional defendant, Paul Blackburn, 35, of Shelbyville, changed his plea Monday to guilty on a conspiracy charge related to the case and is to be sentenced Jan. 23.

Mack Motes, president of the Spotted Saddle Horse Breeders' and Exhibitors' Association (SSHBEA), had previously said that Davis was not a member of his association and that it has no affiliation with him. Also, Davis is not a member of the Walking Horse Trainers' Association.

Witness tampering

On Tuesday, Davis pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the federal Horse Protection Act, conspiracy to commit witness tampering, transportation of a sored horse and entering a sored horse in a competition.

The original indictment stated that Tennessee walking horses "are frequent victims of soring" and that the animals were injured in order to win horse shows. It stated that the soring methods included placing blocks in the horse's feet, taping blocks to the feet "and other soring measures."

According to documents released Tuesday, Davis conspired to obstruct justice by directing Altman, Bradford, Blackburn, "and others" to hide incriminating evidence from investigators and prevent their testimony from reaching a federal grand jury.

Altman and Bradford also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the federal Horse Protection Act, while the remaining counts against the pair were dismissed.

"Too many people"

A press release from the U.S. Attorney's office stated that the gaited horse industry is important to the economy and culture of Tennessee, stressing the importance of maintaining the integrity of the business.

"There have been too many people who have acted with impunity in this arena for too long by violating the Horse Protection Act and other federal laws," said the statement from U.S. Attorney William C. Killian. "We hope this prosecution and others like it will deter trainers and owners who are thinking about cheating and committing fraud in order to reap monetary profits and achieve notoriety.

"Hopefully, the possibility of being federally prosecuted, sustaining criminal convictions - felonies and misdemeanors, and the prospect of jail time will serve to make people think twice before violating the law," the statement read.

Case history

Altman, Davis, and Bradford were indicted by a federal grand jury in March for the horse soring and falsifying entry forms and other related paperwork.

A 34-count superseding indictment filed in late April charged Blackburn with being part of the conspiracy. Davis and Altman were charged with 13 counts of wire fraud, one count of wire fraud conspiracy and 12 counts of money laundering.

Davis was taken into custody by federal marshals in late July for allegedly violating the terms of his bond, which barred him from having any contact with horses owned by other people, including training those horses.

The indictment stated from 2002 to October 2010, Davis and the three conspired to sore the horses and falsify documents without being detected by the USDA and industry inspectors (Designated Qualified Persons) so that additional customers would pay Davis to board and train their horses at his barn.

DQPs are inspectors who check horses competing in shows for evidence of soring.

For more on this and related stories go to www.t-g.com, the home page of the Tribune's sister newspaper, the Shelbyville Times-Gazette. Use the search box with key words such as soreing and defendants' names.