Case Snapshot
Case ID: 17526
Classification: Hoarding
Animal: horse, dog (pit-bull)
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Attorneys/Judges
Prosecutor(s): Evert Fowle
Defense(s): David Van Dyke
Judge(s): Ronald Cole


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Thursday, Jun 3, 2010

County: Kennebec

Charges: Misdemeanor
Disposition: Convicted
Case Images: 1 files available

Defendants/Suspects:
» Brett Ingraham
» Alexis Ingraham

Case Updates: 5 update(s) available

After several months of investigation into charges of animal cruelty, state animal welfare agents made their move Thursday morning at the Fair Play Farm on Tardiff Road.

The agents, equipped with a search warrant and accompanied by two Maine State Police troopers, arrived at the farm about 10 a.m. with trucks pulling horse trailers; and they and a state veterinarian began inspecting horses in the barns. Farm owners Brett and Alexis Ingraham, visibly and vocally frustrated, paced outside, made calls on their cell phones and said they hadn't done anything wrong. By the end of the day, 15 horses and two dogs had been seized from the farm. The horses were loaded onto the trailers by animal welfare agents and driven away.

District Attorney Everett Fowle said Thursday that the search warrant, authorized by Waterville Judge Charles Dow, was intended to gather evidence.

"One of the main concerns is whether the animals at this farm are being treated appropriately, whether they're being neglected and whether that rises to the level of criminal animal cruelty charges; and that's what we're looking for evidence of," Fowle said. "I think we've certainly found evidence thus far which may lead to criminal charges, but we want to review everything very carefully with animal welfare agents before a final decision is made."

Fowle declined to be more specific about the animal cruelty charges involving the horses, saying only that the charges involve "malnourishment, adequate sustenance and appropriate facilities for the horses and other animals."

As agents inspected his horses Thursday, Brett Ingraham continued to maintain that he and his wife had done nothing wrong.

Since the allegations of animal cruelty surfaced earlier this winter, the Ingrahams have said they take in injured or malnourished horses that otherwise would be euthanized -- such as racetrack horses -- and care for them properly at their farm. Ingraham has said he has about 50 horses on the farm.

Standing in his driveway, Brett Ingraham dismissed the allegations and the seizures, saying they had been cooperating with animal welfare agents.

"There's no problem here," Brett Ingraham said Thursday. "Now, they don't have a case, but they're here to push us more."

Ingraham said his wife was upset that agents also had seized their 4-year-old pit bull because it had a sprained ankle, which he said had happened by accident.

"It's all just bull----. Where's our rights?" Ingraham said. Animal welfare agents spent nearly all day inspecting the farm's horses and taking them away from the farm, which had a "for sale" sign posted in the front yard.

Occasionally, screams from a horse could be heard from inside a barn agents had entered.

Supervising the horse seizures Thursday was Norma Worley, director of the state Animal Welfare Program. She said the warrant reflected "the accumulation of almost four months of investigation," which was spearheaded by Assistant District Attorney Paul Rucha.

The horses, Worley said, would be placed in stables and cared for by the animal program.

The investigation that led to Thursday's seizures picked up steam after a complaint was filed by Meris Bickford, an attorney with the Maine State Society for the Protection of Animals, based in South Windham. Worley said her office had received complaints before Bickford's.

Bickford said Thursday she filed a complaint after she visited the farm Feb. 3 to buy a horse for personal use. Also with Bickford was Marilyn Goodreau, president of the society group, and another friend who's a "horse person."

While at Fair Play Farm for a couple of hours, "I was shocked by what I saw," Bickford said, adding that the horses appeared to be in poor health and shelter.

Christine Fraser, a veterinarian with the state's animal welfare program, said in April that animal-welfare agents had regularly been at the farm and were working on issues of "compliance" with the Ingrahams. If those efforts don't work out, she said, "it will go to the next step."

Even as Bickford praised animal welfare officials for seizing the horses, she was also concerned about "why it would take so long."

"I am somewhat dismayed at the length of time the animals suffered while this was going on," she said.

The way animal-welfare agents have handled the case also worries Maddy B. Gray, who thrust the allegations into the public Feb. 11 with a posting on her website NickerNews.net, of Brunswick, with articles and photos about "starving horses in desperate need."

"It's about time," Gray said Thursday, when informed of the horse seizures. She added, "I'm disappointed the animal welfare program didn't use the resources that were offered to them consistently by the horse community," which included assistance from area rescue agencies that state officials didn't contacted, she said.

In response to those concerns, Worley said, "What's important is this is a criminal case. We have to keep control of everything that will be happening from this day forward, so it has to go into a controlled situation."


Case Updates

A husband and wife who operated Fair Play Farm in Clinton were convicted Friday of six counts of misdemeanor cruelty to animal charges.

Brett Ingraham, 34, and Alexis Ingraham, 26, entered Alford pleas -- a form of no-contest plea -- to the charges in Cumberland County Superior Court, and Justice Ronald Cole automatically found them guilty.

The Ingrahams are to be sentenced at a hearing 9 a.m. June 29 in Kennebec County Superior Court.

Kennebec County District Attorney Evert Fowle said all the convictions involved cruelty to the horses.

"We're recommending jail and restitution for both of them," Fowle said. "They have a right to argue for lesser or no jail and lesser restitution."

State animal welfare agents seized 15 horses and other animals from the farm a year ago. The Ingrahams turned over ownership of all the animals to the state in April, halting a series of civil proceedings.

Under the terms of a plea agreement negotiated between the state and the Ingraham attorney David Van Dyke, Brett Ingraham will face a maximum 364 days in jail with all but 15 days suspended and a year of administrative release, plus $3,000 in fines.

He would not be allowed to own or possess horses during the year of administrative release and would have to share with his wife in paying $10,000 restitution.

"The restitution is for the expenses associated with the care and custody of the horses after we seized them," Fowle said. "It does not by a long shot cover the full cost of them."

A maximum sentence for Alexis Ingraham is to be a year in jail with all but 30 days suspended and a year of administrative release, plus the restitution.

"We will argue strongly that she and he never again be allowed to own or possess horses," Fowle said. "We hope this ends with a strong message that, if you take it upon yourself to provide care for horses, you better be able to do it properly. The conditions we discovered in June of last year when we did the search warrant were deplorable and inexcusable."

He said the horses have improved markedly since they were taken from the Ingrahams.

Van Dyke said the Ingrahams can afford neither fines nor restitution and opted for the pleas rather than a trial.

"As you may know, the clients lost their livelihood," he said. "They can no longer earn an income based upon the bail terms, and it was going to be a six-day trial that is going to be emotionally trying and financially difficult to sustain. Ultimately, they believed that the judge will see this for what it is at sentencing and do the right thing.

"It's two people who love animals, especially horses, who tried to do a good thing, run a horse rescue farm," he added. "This is a perfect example of 'no good act goes unpunished.' They tried to do a good thing and did not have enough resources."
Source: kjonline.com - Jun 10, 2011
Update posted on Jun 10, 2011 - 11:08PM 
The state now owns a herd of horses and other animals that were seized from Fair Play Farm in Clinton 10 months ago.

The tug-of-war for control of 15 horses, two dogs, four goats, two pigs and their progeny " which played out over the past few months in a civil case heard in Kennebec County Superior Court " ended with the former owners giving permanent custody of the animals to the state.

The state had sought ownership of all the animals, which were taken June 3, 2010, from the farm operated by Brett and Alexis Ingraham.

After the seizure of the animals by animal welfare agents, the state filed eight misdemeanor charges of cruelty to animals against Brett Ingraham, 34, formerly of Clinton and now of Burnham. His wife, Alexis Ingraham, 25, faces seven counts of cruelty to animals.

The two pleaded not guilty to the charges, which remain pending in Kennebec County Superior Court. They are to be adjudicated now that custody of the animals is settled.

David Van Dyke, who represented the Ingrahams and three other defendants in the civil custody case, also represents the Ingrahams in the criminal case.

The Ingrahams have said they took in injured or malnourished animals that would have been euthanized otherwise, according to Van Dyke.

He labeled it "simply a financial arrangement," adding, "Neither party concedes that they were right or wrong."

District Attorney Evert Fowle, whose office represented the state in the case, said an agreement is still in process.

"Not everybody has signed off on it yet," he said. "Our primary focus was on making sure these animals weren't returned to the conditions we found them in."

As part of the possession case, Dr. Christine Fraser, veterinarian with the state's Animal Welfare Program, spent a day and a half testifying that a number of the animals were thin and had medical problems. She said she visited the farm several times and asked the owners to separate the thinner animals from the rest of the herd and to feed them separately.

At that hearing, the judge was told that the bill for caring for the animals had reached $58,000 by the end of December 2010, and was costing about $200 a day.

Justice Michaela Murphy last week sealed various exhibits " mostly photos of the animals " so they could not be viewed by the public until a jury is empaneled to hear the criminal case.

That order resulted from a hearing at which an attorney for the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel argued against the ban, as did attorney Adam J. Shub, who represents Maddy B. Gray, of NickerNews.net.

Gray is being sued by the Ingrahams in Waldo County. The Ingrahams say the website defamed their operation.

Both Van Dyke and Assistant District Attorney Paul Rucha sought an order impounding the exhibits, saying they wanted to ensure that an impartial jury can be selected.
Source: onlinesentinel.com - Apr 2, 2011
Update posted on Apr 2, 2011 - 10:19AM 
A hearing to determine the fate of 15 horses and a handful of other animals must continue, a judge ruled Thursday.

In her ruling, Justice Michaela Murphy denied a plea from defendants to halt the proceedings and return the animals to Alexis and Brett Ingraham. The animals were seized June 3, 2010, from Fair Play Farm, which the Ingrahams operated in Clinton.

David Van Dyke, the attorney for the Ingrahams and several other defendants in the case, argued that the state waited 147 days too long to seek permanent custody of the animals.

After the seizure, prosecutors filed criminal animal cruelty charges against farm owners Brett and Alexis Ingraham. The Ingrahams pleaded not guilty and maintain their farm took in injured or malnourished animals that otherwise would have been euthanized.

The civil case is filed against the Ingrahams and five other people who owned some of the seized animals, which included dogs, goats and pigs.

Van Dyke said Murphy issued her ruling from the bench in Penobscot County Superior Court, where she is hearing an unrelated homicide case.

Part of the ruling, Van Dyke said, indicates that the state cannot assess a $200-a-day charge for the care of the animals back to the seizure date.

Van Dyke said the judge did not indicate on what date, if any, the billing period would begin.

"The lien cannot date back to the date of the search," he said.

He also said the judge found that the animals could stay in the state's possession because they were seized via search warrant.

"The effort to derail our efforts to protect these animals has been denied for now," District Attorney Evert Fowle said.

He said he expects the ownership hearing to be set some time in April.

Fowle said the issue of assessing the defendants for the care of the animals "is of much lesser importance than protecting the animals. We've won the first round of this."

"It's a complicated ruling, and I haven't fully analyzed it," Van Dyke said.

The state is seeking ownership of the animals, maintaining they were seized "because of diseased, dehydrated and malnourished conditions and the owner had cruelly abandoned them or cruelly treated them within the meaning of Title 17 MRSA subsection 1021."

The statute says, "Within 3 working days of possession of the animal, the humane agent or the state veterinarian shall apply to the court for a possession order. Upon good cause shown, the court shall expedite the case and schedule a prehearing conference to take place within 7 days of the seizure. The court shall set a hearing date and that hearing date must be within 21 days of the date the animal was seized."

"She announced her decision orally and handed the lawyers a multipage document which laid it out," Van Dyke said.

He said a continuation of the hearing -- which was interrupted by his motion to have the case dismissed -- will be rescheduled.

Dr. Christine Fraser, the veterinarian with the state's Animal Welfare Program, was being questioned on the witness stand in late January by Van Dyke when he sought the dismissal.

The judge then asked Van Dyke and the state -- represented by Assistant District Attorney Paul Rucha -- to file written arguments.
Source: kjonline.com - Mar 7, 2011
Update posted on Mar 7, 2011 - 1:50PM 
After a six month investigation, a couple that runs the Fair Play Horse Farm in Clinton has been charged with animal cruelty. Brett Ingraham was arrested Sunday on seven counts of animal cruelty. Ingraham's wife Alexis was also summonsed on the same charges.

Last February, TV5 reported that state animal welfare agents had started an investigation after multiple complaints of neglect and malnourishment had been received.

15 horses were taken from the property in June. The Ingraham's have denied any wrong-doing.

District attorney Evert Fowle says the evidence will speak for itself. Fowle told TV5, "These horses were examined and inspected over a period of weeks and months by animal welfare officials and they found from their system of scoring that the horses conditions had declined markedly. So that's one of the reasons the investigation took so long. We wanted to make sure the conditions these horses were in wasn't the result of a recent purchase."

The Ingraham's are due in court in November.
Source: wabi.tv - Aug 10, 2010
Update posted on Mar 7, 2011 - 1:44PM 
A Clinton woman pleaded not guilty Wednesday to two misdemeanor charges in connection with her alleged mistreatment of horses.

Alexis Ingraham, 25, was charged in 8th District Court with two counts of unlawful sale, consignment or rental of a diseased horse in March. One of the horses was named "Frisky," a judge told her. The other horse was named "Lucky."

Ingraham told the judge she never sold a horse named "Frisky."

Each count is punishable by up to six months in jail. A trial was scheduled for June.

Police said that on or about March 21 in Livermore, Ingraham offered to sell or sold or rented horses, which, "by reasons of debility, disease or lameness … could not be worked" in Maine without violating the state's laws of cruelty to animals.

After the hearing, Ingraham said she intended to fight the charges.

"I think these charges are bogus," she said.

She said her business, Fair Play Farm & Stables, had sold several horses to the people who apparently complained.

"We never had any complaints from them directly," she said.

She said some disgruntled people are looking for a scapegoat.

"I think it's a funny vendetta that seems to be surrounding me," she said.

Looking on in the courtroom were two women who said they are part of a watchdog group "working very hard to address equine abuse in the state of Maine." They declined to be identified, saying they were concerned about being harassed for their actions.

After the hearing, they told reporters they alerted the state about the two horses in the case after hearing about their conditions. Pictures of the animals were what sparked their interest, they said.

Norma Worley, director of Animal Welfare at the Maine Department of Agriculture, confirmed Wednesday that the state was tipped off about the two horses, whose sale took place in Androscoggin County. She said Ingraham was being investigated for similar issues in Kennebec County, but no charges had been filed by the Kennebec County District Attorney's Office.

The two women in court said they find out about possible abuse cases by word of mouth, then carry out their own investigations before alerting authorities. They said they had been looking into Ingraham's activities since 2002. One of the women called the local charges "the tip of the iceberg."

According to news reports, Ingraham and her husband, Brett, run the farm where they buy and sell horses. They also board horses for others and offer riding lessons.

A story in the Bangor Daily News said the Ingrahams are willing to take horses in any condition, which could explain why it might appear that some of the horses are not healthy.
Source: sunjournal.com - May 13, 2010
Update posted on Mar 7, 2011 - 1:30PM 

References

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