Battle continues about rescued horses
Nov. 6, 2012 — A hearing has been set for 1:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 16 in Lassen Superior Court Department 6 to determine the legal depositor of 36 horses taken from the Whispering Pines property in Susanville.
The horses have been receiving care at The Grace Foundation, a rescue group in El Dorado County that provides for abused and neglected horses and provides therapeutic programs for youth and adults.
However, in October, Beth DeCaprio, executive director of the nonprofit organization, sent an email to Bank of America and Wells Fargo requesting “reimbursement for the costs, services and damages incurred as a direct result of caring for the now 45 horses that were fraudulently deposited to Grace by your banks and their agents.”
In previous emails, DeCaprio said 22 of the mares taken were pregnant, but only 14 mares survived, and others needed plasma. The vet bills were almost $20,000 a month.
While staff works on resolving the Susanville case, The Grace Foundation, has temporarily stopped its programs, lessons, clinic and volunteer hours. All of the animals are doing well and are being cared for 24 hours a day.
The Whispering Pines property, on 695-725 Highway 36 and owned by Dwight Bennett has been part of a 2007 lawsuit in which Bank of America and Wells Fargo became involved.
In August 2011, Grace took 36 horses from Whispering Pines. Court documents show that in April 2011, Bennett also surrendered 20 horses to Grace, but those horses are not part of this issue.
It has been alleged in court documents that the horses removed from the ranch were starving and the place was described as unsafe for them to live. Bennett was arrested in October 2011 and is being held to answer to 65 felony charges of animal cruelty. He has a trial date in December.
In July, the Grace Foundation filed a $20 million lawsuit in El Dorado County against the banks, the banks’ attorney Tim Ryan and Bennett and alleged the horses were “fraudulently” given to them.”
This October, DeCaprio sent out an email to the banks telling them she would no longer be the caretaker, and visited the Whispering Pines property to see if the horses could be returned.
After her visit, DeCaprio sent out an email and said she would make sure the horses would never have to return to the property.
When the July lawsuit was filed, representatives for the banks both issued statements and said the horses never belonged to them and their answers still remain the same.
The representatives have also said both banks offered $200,000 each when Grace’s situation came to their attention in May, but DeCaprio turned the offer down.
In an emailed statement from Jumana Bauwens, of Bank of America’s media relations, she said, “Bank of America is deeply concerned for the well being of the Susanville horses currently in the care of The Grace Foundation. Bank of America, along with others, actually made a donation at the Grace Foundation's request when Lassen County transferred the Susanville horses to the Grace Foundation last year. To be clear, however, there was never any agreement by Bank of America to cover costs related to the ongoing care of the Susanville horses. Bank of America does not own and never has owned or been responsible for the Susanville horses or the property upon which they were found. Bank of America learned of the Grace Foundation’s current plight through the organization’s May newsletter and immediately contacted the Foundation's Executive Director Beth DeCaprio to understand the situation. At that time, Ms. DeCaprio demanded payment of $400,000, claiming that this was the approximate amount the Grace Foundation had incurred in caring for the Susanville horses from August 2011 through May 2012. Since that time, the Grace Foundation has provided a letter from its veterinarian estimating the average yearly cost for care of 45 horses at only $240,000. In response to Ms. DeCaprio's demand, Bank of America offered to provide a $200,000 donation to help support the Foundation.
She said, “The Grace Foundation has notified Bank of America that it currently has 45 of the Susanville horses in its custody, and that it can no longer properly care for the horses. Bank of America and Wells Fargo immediately responded by petitioning the court to set a hearing to address the continued care and custody of the horses, and the court agreed to do so.”
Wells Fargo’s response was similar.
In an emailed statement from Juli Campbell, Assistant Vice President for Corporate Communications for the Northern and Central California Region, she wrote, “We share your concern for the welfare of the horses from the Whispering Pines property. Despite the fact that Wells Fargo has never owned or been responsible for these horses, we have taken action in an effort to make sure that they were adequately cared for. In 2011, when it was first discovered that the owners had abandoned and neglected these animals, Wells Fargo’s attorney notified Lassen County’s animal control officials of the situation so that they could provide proper care and treatment, as required by law. On July 29, 2011, the court ordered that the animals should be surrendered to Lassen County and, on August 26, Lassen County’s animal control department relinquished the horses to The Grace Foundation. Even though we had no obligation to do so, Wells Fargo and Bank of America provided a grant of $40,000 to the Grace Foundation at that time.
“When it recently appeared that the Grace Foundation was no longer able or willing to care for the horses, we filed a petition with the court asking that the county, the Grace Foundation and the owners meet in court to discuss the future care and ownership of these horses. We did so because of our concern about the welfare of the horses.
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