Case Snapshot
Case ID: 1883
Classification: Neglect / Abandonment
Animal: horse
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Wednesday, Jan 7, 2004

County: Santa Barbara

Charges: Felony CTA
Disposition: Convicted

Defendant/Suspect: Slick Gardner

Case Updates: 12 update(s) available

Rancher Slick Gardner was charged with nine felony counts, including cruelty to animals and grand theft, in connection with his handling of adopted mustangs at his Buellton ranch.

The district attorney's office filed the charges Wednesday after a six-month animal welfare investigation into the horses at his property on the central coast about 100 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

Gardner, a 57-year-old candidate for county supervisor, was not arrested. His arraignment was scheduled for Jan. 20 and he faces up to eight years in prison if convicted on all counts.

The animals came from two American Indian sisters in northern Nevada who were involved in a grazing dispute with the Bureau of Land Management.

Complaints from neighbors who spotted thin, weak-looking mustangs on Gardner's 2,000-acre ranch in April prompted an initial probe by the county animal services agency. Investigators raided the property twice and removed hundreds of horses.

Gardner faces four counts of animal cruelty, four counts of writing bad checks and one of grand theft. A misdemeanor count of obstructing justice was also filed.

The complaint alleged Gardner "willfully and unlawfully" caused the animals "needless suffering," and failed to provide them with "proper food, drink, shelter and protection from the weather."

Steve Balash, Gardner's attorney, said the defense against the charges "is going to be one hell of a fight.

"For whatever reason, they want to get Slick, so they're pulling out charges they wouldn't otherwise file," he added, referring to the bounced checks counts.

Prosecutors note that the charges involve billings of $300, $472, $1,061 and $7,806. Gardner said the largest debt, for a purchase of hay, has been made good, but he said he couldn't check on the smaller amounts because his check stubs and records were seized.

Gardner has also been billed about $200,000 for costs of horse removal and the county investigation into the alleged animal cruelty.

Prosecutors also say Gardner impeded investigator Laura Cleaves during her work at the ranch. Cleaves decided to remove some horses after determining that they were in danger.

Gardner denied the obstruction allegation, saying he was "just at the wrong place at the right time."

The grand theft charge alleged Gardner stole $7,700 worth of hay from a Buellton man.

About 270 horses altogether were removed from Gardner's ranch, and are being cared for at various locations including nearby ranches, by the group Wildhorses in Need and at the Lompoc Return to Freedom Wild Horse Sanctuary.

Santa Barbara County Animal Control is still looking for willing adopters of the 80 remaining horses on Gardner's ranch.  For more information, contact the Santa Barbara Animal Shelter at: (805) 681-5285


Case Updates

Former Buellton rancher Slick Gardner must keep his distance from horses and complete his year-long sentence in jail after he admitted violating probation Thursday.

Gardner's admission came after several hours of negotiations between the defendant and Santa Barbara County Senior Deputy District Attorney Mag Nicola.

Defense attorney Gary Dunlap, Gardner's attorney, participated during the closed-door talks, but announced in court that he opposed his client's decision to admit the violation.

"I think it's a premature acknowledgment that he's violated his probation," Dunlap said, stating that he wished a scheduled violation hearing to proceed.

A probation-violation report alleged that Gardner was boarding 19 horses, most of them wild, at the Chamberlain Ranch near Los Olivos. He was arrested Oct. 23 and has since been held without bail at Santa Barbara County Jail.

Gardner was banned from possessing or controlling wild horses as part of a 2004 plea agreement on animal cruelty and grand theft charges.

After an agreement was struck Thursday, Superior Court Judge James Rigali ordered that Gardner stay 50 yards away from all horses for the four years left on his probation, unless he has prior permission to interact with the animals.

Rigali also ordered Gardner released for a week beginning Monday so he can help arrange for the transfer of the 19 horses, which apparently belong to his girlfriend, to another facility. Gardner is also permitted to spend a week out of custody at Christmas.

The specifics of the agreement took several hours to solidify Thursday, as Gardner raised questions of just how much contact he could have with horses.

"If I put my kids on a pony ride, would I violate?" Gardner asked at one point. "I don't want to get caught in this trap again."
Source: Lompoc Record - Nov 11, 2005
Update posted on Nov 11, 2005 - 3:41PM 
A former Buellton rancher under house arrest for animal cruelty is now back in jail.

Slick Gardner, the subject of one of the largest animal cruelty investigations in United States history, is accused of violating the terms of his probation-- specifically, taking care of wild horses. Three years ago, Gardner purchased more than 500 wild horses in Nevada and moved him to his Buellton ranch.

Soon after they arrived, he was accused of mistreating them. After a long investigation, the horses were seized by Santa Barbara County officials and were put up for adoption. Gardner was charged with animal cruelty. As part of a plea deal to avoid a trial, he was sentenced to eight months of house arrest was allowed to keep his own domesticated horses.

However, Gardner is now back in jail, accused of violating his probation by taking care of wild horses. Melinda Darway, Gardner's girlfriend and the mother of his two children, tells Action News the charges are bogus. Darway says she's the one taking care of the horses, not Gardner. Darway says the horses are domesticated-- not wild.

Slick Gardner is expected in court on Monday to answer the charge that he violated probation. Until then, he will stay locked up in the Santa Barbara County Jail.
Source: KSBY - Oct 17, 2005
Update posted on Oct 27, 2005 - 10:09PM 
Slick Gardner was escorted from court Friday in handcuffs but was soon released to serve his sentence for animal cruelty and grand theft under house arrest.

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department allowed the Santa Ynez Valley rancher to serve a year-long sentence at home on electronic monitoring, rather than in County Jail, which means he will have a global positioning system strapped to him.

"He's self-employed, so he's going to be able to be out and about," said Sgt. Erik Raney of the Sheriff's Department, adding that Gardner will have a curfew.

Since Gardner was a non-violent offender, he qualified to serve his time under electronic monitoring, Raney said. With good behavior, he could be removed from the monitoring system by March 28.

During a Friday hearing, Superior Court Judge James Rigali also ruled that Gardner must reimburse $21,770 in attorneys' fees to the county public defender's office. Gardner has until Sept. 12 to contest that order.

Defense attorney Steve Balash was contracted by the public defender's office after Gardner declared bankruptcy. Subsequent hearings indicated, however, that Gardner did not qualify for a tax-paid lawyer.

During two high-profile searches of Gardner's 1,300-acre ranch in September 2003, Santa Barbara County Animal Control officials, along with sheriff's and district attorney's investigators, seized 167 horses they believed were undernourished.

The case against Gardner expanded to include accusations of animal cruelty, grand theft of animals and writing bad checks. Prosecutors portrayed Gardner as a man whose dream of adopting and raising wild horses, then selling them, were overwhelmed by his long-running cash crunch.

Gardner always maintained that he was doing a good deed by accepting horses onto his ranch that might otherwise have been slaughtered.

However, he accepted a plea bargain Oct. 13, 2004, admitting to one count of grand theft for not paying $11,000 in transportation costs to the former owners of some horses, and one count of animal cruelty for not properly feeding the animals.

More than 600 horses were eventually removed from Gardner Ranch, including more than 200 that landed with the Solvang nonprofit group Wild Horses in Need. Other horses ended up in places as diverse as Georgia, Indiana, New Hampshire and Oregon.

Gardner still owes $255,000 in restitution to Santa Barbara County for the costs of removing the horses from his ranch.

And after a long financial struggle, he lost the ranch off Highway 246, between Buellton and Solvang, last fall.

Once Gardner completes house arrest, he will be required to serve five years of probation. During that time, he will not be permitted to own any wild horses.
Source: Lompoc Record - Aug 7, 2005
Update posted on Aug 7, 2005 - 12:56AM 
Gardner's attorney, Steve Balash, told Superior Court Judge James Rigali in Santa Maria Wednesday that his client wished to dismiss his appeal and begin serving a one-year jail sentence for felony grand theft and animal cruelty in Santa Barbara County Jail starting Aug 5.

The 57-year-old Gardner said in an interview Wednesday that relinquishing his freedom brought him a measure of relief.

"I'm just glad to be able to get this thing behind me sooner, rather than later," Gardner said as he walked to his pick-up truck, parked at the Santa Maria Court Complex. He will remain free on $50,000 bail until he goes to jail next week.

During two high-profile searches of Gardner's 1,300-acre ranch in September 2003, Santa Barbara County animal control officials, along with sheriff's and district attorney's investigators seized 167 horses they believed were undernourished.

The case against Gardner expanded to include accusations involving animal cruelty, grand theft of animals and writing bad checks. Prosecutors portrayed Gardner as a man whose dream of adopting and raising wild horses, then selling them, were overwhelmed by his long-running cash crunch.

Gardner always maintained that he was doing a good deed by accepting horses onto his ranch that might otherwise have been slaughtered.

However, he accepted a plea bargain Oct. 13, 2004, admitting to one count of grand theft for not paying $11,000 in transportation costs to the former owners of some horses, and one count of animal cruelty, for mistreating the animals by not properly feeding them.

"Slick had a good idea and he certainly meant well," Balash said of his client's horse-collecting habit. "My regret is that everyone didn't band together and perhaps help him feed the horses. For what it cost to prosecute this case, it could have bought a lot of hay."

Senior Deputy District Attorney Mag Nicola said Gardner was offered help from ranchers and nonprofit organizations in the Santa Ynez Valley, all of which were refused.

"Many of the animals were terribly undernourished," Nicola said. "If you're going to take on that responsibility, you need to have the ability and resources to take care of these animals."

More than 600 horses were eventually removed from Gardner Ranch, including more than 200 that landed with the Solvang nonprofit group Wild Horses in Need. Other horses ended up in places as diverse as Georgia, Indiana, New Hampshire and Oregon.

Gardner's troubles don't end when he surrenders his freedom. He still owes $255,000 in restitution to Santa Barbara County for the costs of removing horses from Gardner Ranch.

And after a long battle with financial solvency, he lost the ranch off Highway 246, between Buellton and Solvang, last fall. He had inherited the property from his father.
Source: Lompoc Record - July 28, 2005
Update posted on Jul 28, 2005 - 5:04PM 
Neighbors of a California rancher described hundreds of his mustangs as weak and thin.

Now dozens of the horses are up for adoption here in Indiana. People have already adopted 8 of the horses through Indiana Horse Rescue. Law enforcement officials confiscated five hundred 98 horses from California rancher... Slick Gardner. Gardner was charged with nine felony counts, including animal neglect. Indiana horse rescue is now housing thirty of the horses, thanks to the Santa Barbara Animal Services.

Anthony Caldwell with the Indiana Horse Neglect says, "They were malnourished, there were substantial health issues all of that was resolved by the people in Santa Barbara California."

Kathryn Caldwell with the Indiana Horse Rescue says, "I cannot imagine...I just cannot imagine...why anyone would do that to a horse....why have it in your back yard... why have it on your property if you're not going to care for it. I can't imagine what would go through someone's mind."

The Santa Barbara Director of Animal Services says the horses have been sent all over the country. But they still have 140 of them left. Meantime, Gardner is out of jail on an appeal, facing a one-year sentence.
Source: WISH-TV - Dec 2, 2004
Update posted on Dec 3, 2004 - 7:23AM 
Slick Gardner, in jail for possibly violating terms of his probation, has been evicted from the 1,300-acre Santa Ynez Valley ranch that bears his family's name.

Several residents, including Gardner's girlfriend and child, vacated the ranch by the Tuesday eviction-deadline, said Christel Iwohn of Jelmax, the company that owns the property.

At least four people remain on the ranch, and are helping to care for about 300 horses that remain, Iwohn said. Jelmax is also allowing Santa Barbara County Animal Services to periodically occupy the property to remove horses, she said.
Source: Santa Maria Times - Oct 29, 2004
Update posted on Oct 29, 2004 - 7:04AM 
Buellton rancher Slick Gardner may find out this week if he's going to spend some time in state prison.

A Superior Court judge threw Gardner into county jail last week after ruling he may have violated his probation. Judge Art Garcia scheduled a hearing Friday to formally determine whether Gardner violated his probation by trying to block the removal of horses from his ranch off Highway 246 between Solvang and Buellton. If Gardner is found to be in violation, he could face a maximum of more than three years in state prison.

A probation report released last Friday recommended Gardner spend two years, eight months in prison for the alleged violation.

"The defendant has made a conscious decision to ignore the court's directives and has shown that he is not amenable to probation supervision," Deputy Probation Officer Shawna Coleman wrote in the report.

Until this week's hearing, the 57-year-old rancher is free on $50,000 bail, pending appeal of his conviction for felony animal cruelty and grand theft relating to horses kept on his ranch.

As part of his settlement, Gardner agreed to relinquish about 300 wild horses to qualified adopters. However, he allegedly refused last Wednesday to approve a seizure of about 50 wild horses by Santa Barbara County Animal Services.

Gardner's attorney, Steve Balash, maintains his client does not oppose the removal of the horses but just wants to have a say in their destination.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Mag Nicola said the county would try to remove the horses soon, since winter is approaching. Gardner has provided a list of adopters he would approve, and the county is trying to determine whether the facilities meet their standards.

Santa Barbara County has already spent more than $200,000 on the seizure of horses from Gardner Ranch, and officials are trying to recover those expenses from Gardner through civil proceedings. Gardner Ranch is apparently in foreclosure, Balash said.
Source: The Lompoc Record - Oct 28, 2004
Update posted on Oct 28, 2004 - 3:24PM 
Last month, Gardner pleaded no contest to charges of animal cruelty and fraud. In his agreement with the Santa Barbara County District Attorney's Office, the wild horses were to be removed from his ranch. However, Gardner says his agreement is being violated, because he's supposed to have a say in where the horses go.

Judge Arthur Garcia says because Gardner and Santa Barbara County are disputing over several horses, he has ruled the Dan sisters, whom Gardner owes horses to, can choose any 27 they want.

"That's a disagreement between the judge and my client," says Gardner's attorney, Steve Balash. "The judge doesn't care which horses they take, Slick does."

As part of Gardner's plea agreement, he faces a minimum of one day in jail and a maximum of one year, in addition to $250,000 in fines and restitution fees. So far, more than 200 wild horses have been moved off Gardner's ranch, and there are about 300 left that need homes. If you're interested in adopting any of the horses, contact Santa Barbara County Animal Control.
Source: KSBY
Update posted on Oct 9, 2004 - 1:31PM 
Buellton rancher Slick Gardner pleaded no contest to animal cruelty and grand theft in a deal with prosecutors that requires him to give up the more than 400 wild horses remaining on his ranch.

The horses will be put up for adoption in groups of 20 or 30.

As part of Thursday's plea deal, prosecutors agreed to drop 10 additional charges, including animal cruelty and check fraud counts, which could have led to a 10-year prison term. Gardner, 57, now faces up to a year in County Jail when sentenced Oct. 6.
Source: Los Angeles Times - Sept 5, 2004
Update posted on Sep 7, 2004 - 9:35AM 
Buellton rancher Slick Gardner filed for bankruptcy, putting the county's $220,000 civil action against him for horse cruelty on hold.

Gardner said Wednesday that he filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection to put "a little sanity in what's going on here."

"The Chapter 11 reorganization puts the brakes on all of this stuff," he said.

Last year, county Animal Services officials began a neglect probe against Gardner followed by two of the largest and costliest livestock seizures in its history.

Gardner was billed for the costs of the raids, seizure of the horses and the monitoring by animal services but he hasn't paid anything to the county.

"Clearly a question is, will we ever be able to collect? At this point I don't know the answer to that," County Counsel Michael Youngdahl said.

The bankruptcy filing has now raised concerns about the foals are being born at the Gardner Ranch as well as the 450 wild horses that officials and neighbors already believe are at risk of neglect. Animal Services continues to monitor the health of the horses.

The costs of looking after Gardner's horses last year pushed Animal Services over its $2.7 million budget. It's expected to do the same this year.

Read More: MercuryNews.com
Update posted on May 14, 2004 - 6:27AM 
Buellton rancher Slick Gardner pleaded not guilty Wednesday to three new charges filed against him by the Santa Barbara County District Attorney's office.

Gardner, 57, who owns a 2,000 acre ranch off Highway 246 in Buellton, now faces 13 charges, including grand theft animal, animal cruelty, grand theft, writing bad checks and obstructing justice, according to court documents.

He had already pleaded not guilty to multiple felony counts of animal cruelty, writing bad checks and grand theft stemming from his handling and treatment of adopted wild horses. If convicted of all charges, he faces more than 10 years in prison, according to Senior Deputy District Attorney Mag Nicola.

The setting of a preliminary hearing scheduled for Wednesday was continued until April 21 by Superior Court Judge Art Garcia.

In the new charges filed this week, the District Attorney's office alleges that Gardner never paid for 246 horses he was supposed to have purchased from Carrie and Mary Dann of Nevada, according to court documents.

He also is charged with grand theft for allegedly failing to repay more than $12,000 he owed to the Western Shoshone Defense Project, Nicola said.

The Western Shoshone Defense Project is a non-profit organization based in Crescent Valley, Nev., that functions as an advocate for the Western Shoshone American Indian tribe -- of which the Danns are members, according to Julie Fischel, an attorney with the group.

The amount was advanced by the group for expenses related to the acquisition of the horses, according Fischel. Gardner allegedly wrote a bad check to repay the group, Fischel said.

A third charge alleges that Gardner wrote more than $12,000 in bad checks to PG&E, according to the court documents.

Attorney Steve Balash, who is representing Gardner, believes the new charges constitute overkill.

"I think it's a bit much," Balash said. "Do they really need to bring every charge in the world against Slick Gardner?"

Balash also noted that he may remove himself from the Gardner case.

"In a case like this, you need an investigator and a veterinarian," Balash said, noting that he is working at a reduced rate.

Gardner Ranch in Buellton was searched twice in September by county animal services, sheriff's and district attorney's investigators. During the search, 167 horses considered neglected or malnourished were seized and sent to several area ranches.

Source: The Lompoc Record
Update posted on Apr 8, 2004 - 7:17PM 
Buellton rancher Slick Gardner pleaded innocent to nine felony counts of animal cruelty, writing bad checks and grand theft stemming from the alleged poor treatment of hundreds of mustangs from Nevada.

Gardner, 57, entered the pleas Feb 11, but reserved the right to a demurrer on a misdemeanor obstruction of justice count because it's unclear "what they said he did," defense attorney Steve Balash said.

Read More: SignOnSanDiego
Update posted on Feb 26, 2004 - 2:44PM 

References

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