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Wednesday, Feb 15, 2012County: Fresno
Charges: Felony CTA
Case Images: 1 files available
» Jose Francisco Romo
» Trudy Romo - Not Charged
Eight malnourished horses were found on a 40-acre ranch northeast of Sanger that is owned by a couple who a decade ago won a $40 million California Lottery jackpot.
On Wednesday, Fresno County Sheriff's deputies arrested the owner of the horses, Jose Francisco Romo, 47. He was booked into the Fresno County Jail on felony animal cruelty charges. Bail was listed at $40,000.
There were 11 horses total, and Romo signed over ownership of all of them to the Central California Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said Beth Caffrey, the SPCA's human education administrator. Eight of the horses were removed Wednesday, she said. The last three will be removed today.
It is at least the third time in two months that local officials have come across herds of malnourished and mistreated horses in Fresno County.
In December, SPCA officials found more than 30 mistreated horses at farms in north Clovis and near Riverdale. Caffrey also said two other investigations are in the works, and the SPCA has quietly taken in other stray and mistreated horses.
Caffrey called the spate of cases "the worst in 40 years, going back through all our history."
In the most recent incident, Caffrey said the malnourished horses all scored either a one or between a one and a two on the Henneke Body Condition Scoring System. That means they are in "poor" or "very thin" condition.
The horses were on a property that abuts the Friant-Kern Canal near Clinton and Riverbend avenues.
Melanie Skadden, a neighbor of Romo's, called the SPCA after seeing several horses in poor condition on the property.
Skadden said Romo and his wife, Trudy, moved to the home not long after winning the lottery in 2001.
California Lottery officials on Wednesday wouldn't confirm any information on the Romos, saying it was private. But a woman who identified herself as Trudy Romo's mother -- and who lived at a central Fresno property listed as owned by the Romos -- confirmed that her daughter and son-in-law were the 2001 SuperLotto Plus winners. She also said the couple had separated, and she did not know Jose Romo had been arrested. She declined to say more.
Neither Jose nor Trudy Romo could be reached to comment Wednesday.
Skadden said there were once 12 horses on the property, but the skeletal remains of one was found along the canal.
Last Friday, she said, a neighbor called her and expressed concern about the health of the horses. Skadden and her husband looked at the horses and were so concerned they called the SPCA.
The investigation started Saturday, sheriff's officials said. SPCA officials were at the site both Saturday and Sunday to confirm the allegation of neglected horses.
By Wednesday morning, the SPCA had reported the incident to sheriff's deputies and requested their help in removing the starving horses.
According to information from the sheriff's department, Jose Romo was at the property -- which includes a home -- when deputies arrived.
In December, what was called one of the largest cases of animal cruelty seen in the Fresno area in recent years resulted in the SPCA taking 18 abused horses and euthanizing another from a ranch on Shepherd Avenue just west of Temperance Avenue in north Clovis.
Less than a week later, a herd of starving and dead horses was found on a farm near Riverdale. Caffrey at the time said 14 horses were found hungry and dehydrated, and two had to be euthanized.
Four horse carcasses also were discovered on the property when the SPCA arrived.
Caffrey said the SPCA still has all the horses from the Clovis farm. The horse owner, Dana Thomas Kahler, was booked into the Fresno County Jail. On Wednesday, an official with the Fresno County District Attorney's Office said prosecutors are still waiting on paperwork from investigators before proceeding with a case against Kahler.
Horses from the Riverdale-area farm are being cared for by the owner, but under monitoring by the SPCA. That investigation continues, Caffrey said.
The horses taken to the SPCA on Wednesday will be cared for with an eye toward adoption, she said.
Caffrey cited the poor economy for the explosion in malnourished and mistreated horses. In addition, she said, the dry winter has kept pastures thin. In years past, the animals could survive on grasses nourished by rain.
"It's probably going to get worse," she said. "That's what we're terrified of."
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