Wonderfully warm-hearted carriage horse people and compassionate riding horse trainers - true crusaders of kindness and caring - are swarming down like gentle locusts on harness racing's Monticello Harness Racing track in Monticello, New York. They are offering hefty sums -- some as absurdly high as $200.00 US -- for those unfortunate horses who are performing too poorly to participate in actual races.
A few hundred dollars might not seem like a lot of money, but these buyers are on a bigger mission. While the people who sell their horses think they are buying peace of mind for themselves and a lifetime of care for their horse, they're actually lining the bank accounts of con artists who simply sell the horses for meat whilst masquerading as do-gooders.
If these scammers had a slogan it would probably be: "Bamboozle 'em, buy 'em, and butcher 'em!
They often present themselves as kindly carriage-horse people or riding horse trainers on a budget. Some even present themselves as true crusaders of kindness and caring, but according to a few angry horsemen at Monticello Raceway, they're really just horse meat dealers who "really need horses." According to many, these "con artists" are swarming down like locusts on the old racetrack in the Catskill Mountains of New York.
The paltry sums these anxious buyers offer for horses who are performing poorly, or perhaps not able to perform at all, is what leads many racing insiders to believe that they're dealing with the bad guys -- the proverbial "killers."
According to some of the two-legged workhorses who eek out a living at Monticello -- and further evidenced by the angry words and the unimpeachable nature of my sources -- these kindly killers are more tenacious than time-share salespeople at cruise ship stopovers.
"I am so sick of the aggressive killer-buyers who are allowed into the barn area at Monticello...literally begging for horses," said one Monticello insider.
"There are two that I know for a fact are not licensed who have been on the grounds constantly. One even has a lifetime ban with the NYSRWB, but the guys who drive the trailers in are licensed so that's how they get in. It's no secret.
"Listening to them try to make people believe that the horses that they are offering $100 to $200 for horses who are NOT going to end up on a feedlot makes me sick. There is a special place in hell for those people, and furthermore these types should not be granted access to the grounds. No license is apparently no problem with security."
Meat dealers on the backstretch are nothing new, but the new image that some of these people put forward is less than genuine, and this has a lot of horsemen on edge.
"Some owners and trainers who sell their horses to these people think they are buying peace of mind for themselves and a lifetime of care for their horse," said one trainer. "But they're actually lining the bank accounts of con men who just turn around and sell the horses for meat and pretending that they're finding homes for the horses. Some people fall for that routine."
Why are some horsemen shocked about unlicensed meat dealers going on safari in the paddock and barn area?
The whole "no-license-no-problem" angle should come as no surprise to any horsemen at Monticello or to anyone in the racing business.
In neighboring Pennsylvania, this kind of Angel-of-Mercy horse-snatching revealed its new face earlier this year when counterfeit "rescuer" Kelsey Elva Lefever, was charged with three felonies and two misdemeanors for her scams at Penn National, Mountaineer and Charles Town wherein she promised homes for a lot of horses who always seemed to end up at a meat auction.
Ms. Lefever, in many instances, one-upped the scammers at Monticello because according to her accusers she didn't even pay for the horses -- the owners paid her. She simply took the animals with the promise that she was in the business of finding homes for discarded racehorses.
According to some of her accusers, Lefever often requested that a large donation of hay and grain should come with each horse so as to help feed the animal while a permanent home was being found. To one horseman this sounded more like she wanted to fatten up her livestock for the weigh-in.
"You have to admire her business savvy," said one Monticello insider. "I think that the whole thing that happened with that girl (Kelsey Lefever) over in Pennsylvania has everybody here on edge. Somebody they don't know offers them really cheap money for a bad horse and you have to instantly think about that. I mean, she was a total pro with business cards and videos - the whole thing. In the meantime every horse she took ended up on a meat hook. That's got people worried about selling horses to anybody."
It was reported that Lefever was allowed to come and go as she pleased from thoroughbred tracks in Pennsylvania and West Virginia while security at the tracks turned a blind eye in spite of the fact that Lefever didn't even have a license to drive her rig or herself onto the grounds of the racetrack.
Much to the chagrin of many horse people, Lefever's real crime -- her merciless heartless deception -- will never be heard by a jury because she's copped a plea. According to an article in the Philadelphia Enquirer, Lefever has negotiated a deal with prosecutors where she will agree to enter a first-offender program, and she will receive two years of probation. She cannot participate in activities related to horses and she will not be allowed to acquire horses during her probation. Lefever has waived her February 21 hearing and will be formally arraigned on April 19.
"When you're a chicken you can make up lies about your feathers, but when you start laying eggs all over the place, people start to realize that you're a chicken," quipped one horsemen. "If she went before a jury, she was toast."
For all intents and purposes, LeFever's scamming went on under the not-so-watchful eyes of racetrack management and security, and according to some Monticello horsemen, the same thing is happening at Monticello and other nearby racetracks.
Chris McErlean - Vice president of Penn national Gaming and former Vice President of Racing operations at The New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority -- was "unavailable for comment" when LeFever was first hauled away, but two months after the fact he managed to issue the following carefully worded statement:
"Essentially, if we are given credible information regarding horses that are sold for purposes of slaughter then we have the right to take actions against the individuals if they have stabling privileges at our tracks."
Nothing in McErlean's statement explains why an unlicensed purveyor of horse flesh was allowed to roam around the track and easily run her business.
The perpetrator was not someone who had "stabling privileges" at the track. McErlean seems to be confusing the con with the conned. KelseyLefever was an intruder - a Trojan horse with a spiffy business card who should not have been allowed on the grounds in the first place.
McErlean went on to say that Penn National Gaming, Inc. would hold owners and trainers of horses accountable for conducting "proper due diligence on those buying horses."
In other words, it's up to the owner or trainer to do the detective work when they sell a horse.
This comment from McErlean does not take into account the facts that Lefever was a master manipulator, and that horse trainers are not detectives or FBI profilers. A racetrack should be a secure place for horses and for the people who tend to them. They put on the show and they deserve to be protected by the track.
McErlean's somewhat confusing response to this issue, fails to point out where a trainer's responsibility ends and where a racetrack's responsibility begins.
Lefever ran a totally legitimate, albeit phony, business that would have fooled even Sherlock Holmes. Anyone who was scammed by Lefever would be hard pressed to say they suspected she was up to no good.
"Anybody with a brain knows that you need a license to be on the grounds," said another insider. "When you fill in a license application, you have check off if you're a groom or a trainer or a driver or a blacksmith or whatever. There's no box to check off and apply for a license to be a meat dealer in the paddock...so you you don't get a license, and if you don't have a license, you don't come on the grounds. Would you let the gas meter guy into your house if you knew he was going to eat your kids? It's as easy at that."
Simply put, the justifiably paranoiac state of many horsemen, and their fears that slaughterhouse buyers are going rogue at Monticello is just another page borrowed from the Penn National school of negligence on the part of those who are responsible for ensuring that only licensed individuals are allowed in the barn are or elsewhere at track.
Another harness racing insider vented her anger about what she perceives to be the horse meat harvest at Monticello when she wrote:
"This really ticks me off. Tracks turn their heads. What do they care? It‘s not their problem, and it makes me SICK!
"Every horse deserves good care and love for all they give to us in racing, and then to have these (expletive deleted) show up on the track....well...hell is too good for them.....They'd probably sell their own families for a few extra dollars...
"OH...it makes my BLOOD BOIL!"
Harnesslink exclusive by David Mattia
These horses never had a chance in life: