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SALT LAKE CITY — More than a year after indictments were handed down by a federal grand jury, the case against a pair of Utah men accused in a horse slaughtering ring is winding down to a close.
Multiple charges were brought in September 2011 against Robert Wilford Capson of West Jordan and Dennis Kay Kunz for their part in fraudulently obtaining Bureau of Land Management wild horses for intended sale for slaughter in Mexico.
More than 60 horses were intercepted by federal agents and impounded at port-of-entry outside of Helper in Carbon County on U.S. 6 in August of 2011.
The indictment said Capson purchased the horses on paper from the Wild Horse and Burro Facility in Herriman, indicating to the federal agency the animals were to be used as rodeo stock in Ibapah, Tooele County.
Wild horses deemed ineligible for adoption are routinely sold by the BLM, but such transactions require would-be buyers to affirm the animals will not be resold and in particular are not destined for slaughter houses in Mexico or Canada.
Capson, according to the indictment, purchased the horses and delivered them in Willard, Box Elder County, to Kunz, whose involvement was deliberately kept under the radar because of his reputation as a "kill buyer" of horses.
Agents tracked the animals to Willard, where Kunz provided the tractor, trailer and fuel with the intent to get the animals to Presidio, Texas, on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Capson pleaded guilty earlier this year to one count of wire fraud and he received one year probation and was ordered to pay $9,399.60 in restitution.
In a plea deal struck this month with U.S. prosecutors, Kunz agreed to an identical resolution in the case and will be sentenced in January by Judge Dale Kimball.
Melodie Rydalch, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Salt Lake City, said felony convictions for both men are an appropriate conclusion for the case.
"In this case, which involved an undercover sting operation by the BLM, the horses were never in danger," Rydalch said. "These felony convictions, however, should send a strong message to others that this is conduct that will be aggressively prosecuted."
Simone Netherlands, managing director of the wild horse advocacy group Respect4Horses, praised the outcome of the case, but noted the Utah incident is symptomatic of a larger, widespread problem that largely goes unnoticed by the federal agency tasked with managing wild horse populations.
"At least this is something," she said. "This should be a reason for kill buyers to be a little more cautious and a little more scared."
The last U.S. horse slaughter plant shut down in 2007, a year after Congress effectively instituted a ban by not funding U.S. Department of Agriculture inspections of horses transported for slaughter for human consumption.
A 2011 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office said the de-facto ban has resulted in a 148 percent increase in U.S. horse exports for slaughter in Canada from 2006-2010, and a 660 percent increase in shipments to Mexico. The report noted that U.S. horses intended for slaughter are traveling "significantly" longer distances to reach their final destination, which are not covered by U.S. humane slaughter protections.