Prison Sentence in Horse Fraud Case

By August 22, 2011

A California woman was sentenced to 41 months in prison and ordered to pay more than $272,000 in restitution for fraudulent transactions and animal cruelty in cases involving the Internet sale of horses. Thirty-two-year-old Wrightwood resident Trina Lee Kenney pleaded guilty to mail fraud before the United States District Court on April 13, 2011, admitting to defrauding 88 prospective horse purchasers in 23 different states and Canada of as much as $300,000 between November 2004 and June 2008.

Kenney used a series of aliases to post advertisements on reputable equine Web sites, making false claims about the physical characteristics, temperaments, breeding and registration of the horses she had on offer. She also admitted to drugging horses to make them appear docile and to painting at least two animals so they appeared a different color.

Using strong-arm tactics, Kenney pressured interested parties into making deposits and then going through with purchases by means that included the assurance of a money-back guarantee.

Once payment was received, she would deliver horses that buyers found to be seriously misrepresented. In some cases, they received animals other than those pictured in the ads, and in other instances she failed to follow through with delivery of any kind.

She would then refuse to return phone calls and even threatened to sue buyers for defamation when they began posting complaints on Internet chat rooms and bulletin boards. Many victims simply lost their deposits or payments, while others received horses that were starved, covered in sores, unable to walk due to untrimmed hooves or suffering from strangles, a severely contagious equine respiratory disease.

Eventually, victims began contacting the police. Due to the interstate nature of the transactions, the case was reportedly investigated by the FBI’s Internet crimes division in conjunction with the U.S. Postal Service.

The equestrian community applauded the court’s decision to impose a prison sentence as well as require monetary sanctions for Kenney’s animal cruelty and fraud, yet many contend that such buyer-beware practices are still far too common in the industry. When purchasing a horse, consumers should educate and protect themselves from fraud.

In January the California State Legislature passed a new Business and Professions Code specific to horse sales, combining several existing statutes governing consignment sales, commissions and agency issues. Effective as of Jan. 15, 2011, Cal. B&P 19525 requires a written contract for the sale or other transfer of a horse and a written disclosure of the sale price, commissions and agency (e.g. buyer’s agent, seller’s agent or dual agent). The failure to properly document the sale of a horse could result in payment by the offending party of “treble” damages―three times the actual financial damage―to the injured party.

Jeremiah Lee spent the summer working as an associate at Best, Best & Krieger LLP. For more information, e-mail margaret.hosking@bbklaw.com.

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