HORSE BREEDER CONVICTED

Paragallo guilty on 33 counts of animal cruelty

CHRISTEN GOWAN STAFF WRITER
Section: Sports,  Page: B1

Date: Thursday, March 11, 2010

CATSKILL -- Disgraced horse trainer and breeder Ernie Paragallo was found guilty Wednesday morning of 33 of 34 misdemeanor counts of neglecting his 177 horses at Center Brook Farm in Climax.


Paragallo, dressed in jeans, a black leather jacket and cowboy boots, showed little emotion when Judge George G. Pulver Jr. quickly gave his verdict. Pulver said he found Paragallo not guilty on one count of animal cruelty.


The 52-year-old Long Island man has been on trial for the past two weeks to decide if he knowingly starved the animals at his Greene County farm. The verdict came in Greene County Court after Paragallo waived his right to a jury trial.


Paragallo, who has been banned from racing in New York, rushed out of the courtroom as soon as the verdict was read and referred all comments to his attorney Michael Howard.


"I know that we feel there wasn't sufficient evidence, but we support the judge's decision," Howard said. He added that they plan to file notice of appeal. Howard said his client didn't know the extent of malnutrition at the farm and placed responsibility with the farm's manager, Eddie Salazar.


Greene County District Attorney Terry Wilhelm argued in court that Paragallo starved the horses by not feeding them an ample diet of hay and grain. "There's one thing about a horse being lean, but it's another thing to be emaciated," Wilhelm said after the verdict. "We are extremely pleased."


Paragallo's farm was raided by State Police on April 9. When police and animal rescue officials arrived, they found all 177 horses showing various phases of malnutrition. Many of the horses have now been adopted out to homes, but several had to be euthanized.


Paragallo's sentencing is scheduled for May 18, and he will remain free on bail. He faces up to two years in jail and a $33,000 fine, $1,000 per count.


Columbia-Greene County Humane Society President Ron Perez said the verdict was a big victory for his organization, which has found homes for 82 of the horses. Perez said the conditions on the farm the day of the State Police raid were the worst he had ever seen. "It was an equine version of a concentration camp," Perez said. He said Paragallo's case will be a positive example for rescue groups and prosecutors across the country.


Perez said there's still more work to do at Center Brook Farm, where 30 of the horses remain. Those thoroughbreds are being closely monitored by humane society officials.


Christen Gowan can be reached at 454-5350 or by e-mail at cgowan@timesunion.com.