The federal Bureau of Land Management has busted an alleged wild-horse-smuggling ring that authorities believe was attempting to ship animals out of the country for slaughter.
On Friday, law enforcement officers from various state and federal agencies seized 64 horses in two separate incidents, said Gus Warr, director of the BLM's Wild Horse and Burro Program for Utah. Forty-seven animals were taken from a trailer at the port of entry on U.S. Highway 6 near Helper. Another 17 animals were found at a corral in northern Utah near Willard.
It's one of the largest seizures of its kind, Warr said.
All 64 animals were transferred to the BLM's wild horse and burro facility in Herriman.
The investigation is ongoing and names of those arrested have not been made public. But several people are believed to be involved.
Warr said the suspects had been under scrutiny for some time. "There were lots of red flags," he said. "There were a lot of things with this application that didn't pan out."
The horses came from the BLM's Oklahoma operation, Warr said. They were part of the agency's sale program, rather than its adoption program.
Horses that have not been adopted after being processed three times through the BLM's Wild Horse and Burro Adoption Program, or that are more than 11 years old, can be purchased. But Warr said the sales agreement bans the use of the horses for slaughter or sale of the animals to anyone who intends to slaughter them.
A 2007 federal ban on slaughtering horses for meat also makes it illegal to transport animals out of the country for such purposes.
"That was our number-one concern," Warr said. "That's why we stopped the truck."
The case will be prosecuted through the Office of the U.S. Attorney for Utah, said spokeswoman Melodie Rydalch. She said she could not comment on the specifics of this case, because her office has not yet received documents stemming from the BLM's investigation.
Charges in other such cases have included misdemeanors as well as felonies, she said.