A Louisiana man involved with a controversial horse rescue operation was arrested Feb. 19 and charged on multiple counts of cruelty to animals and theft of a horse, according to the Union Parish, La., Sheriff’s Office.

Hal Parker, 60, of Marion in northern Louisiana near the Arkansas state line, was taken into custody following a five-week investigation into his involvement in acquiring horses, mostly Thoroughbreds, from auction houses known for selling animals for slaughter that Parker would then re-sell, according a Union Parish Sheriff’s Office press release. 

Parker was charged with two counts of aggravated animal cruelty, two counts of simple animal cruelty, and one charge of theft related to allegations that a woman in Iowa paid for a horse she never received, according to the sheriff’s office. Parker’s bond was set at $250,000.

Union Parish Sheriff Dusty Gates said his department began investigating Parker after the National Thoroughbred Welfare Organization published an online article Aug. 29, 2018, about the efforts of a rescue organization named ICareIHelp to raise money online in order to buy horses from kill pen auctions. ICareIHelp is operated by Dina Alborano of Trenton, N.J.

“As a result of that article, we began to get calls from local people and from out-of-state,” Gates said. “I think these charges are just the tip of the iceberg.”

Sheriff department investigators reported “rescued” Thoroughbreds on Parker’s property, housed in two chicken houses in the Marion area and other places around the parish, were malnourished—one to the extent it had to be euthanized. A number of the horses have been diagnosed with diseases, including a highly contagious disease called strangles, so named because untreated horses sometimes suffocate due to enlarged lymph nodes obstructing their upper airways. 

Investigators also determined Parker had, over time, boarded about 180 horses he acquired from kill pens, but they don’t know the locations of 55 horses because no paper trail exists.

“Initially there were 65 we could not account for, but we found 10 of them,” Gates said. “The records (Parker) kept were basically useless.”

According to the sheriff’s office press release, investigators found that Parker and ICareIHelp would appeal for money in order to rescue Thoroughbreds from kill pens and then advertise the horses for resale on the organization’s website “complete with photographs showing healthy horses.”

“Those horses were then delivered, often in emaciated conditions or with diseases,” the sheriff’s office release stated.

Union Parish Sheriff’s Office investigators have been getting assistance from the Louisiana Livestock Brand Commission, which investigates agricultural crime throughout the state. The Brand Commission has a long paper trail on Parker going back to February of 2018 when state investigators began getting complaints about horses infected with strangles that had been rescued from kill pens.

State vets visited the properties where Parker kept horses and filed disease investigation reports at least seven times between February and August of 2018, according to public records supplied to BloodHorse by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture & Forestry, which is the umbrella organization for the Brand Commission.

On Aug. 30, 2018, Parker was hand-delivered a notification to cease and desist from buying and selling horses because he was not properly licensed and bonded. Gates said Parker had rectified his license problems and was properly licensed and bonded at the time of his arrest.

But there are many other issues being regularly uncovered, according to Gates.

“We have been supplied with a ton of information from witnesses in our parish and numerous individuals that have dealt with the ICareIHelp organization,” he said. “We are exploring all avenues and everyone involved. I anticipate more charges.”