I.G.H.A. / HorseAid's Bureau of Land Management News
Copyright ©1997 The Associated Press
DEL RIO, Texas (Mar 22, 1997 3:25 p.m. EST) -- A federal grand jury has collected evidence that shows U.S. government officials allowed the slaughter of hundreds of wild horses taken from federal lands, falsified records and tried to prevent investigators from uncovering the truth.
Wild horses and burros, which compete with domestic cattle for forage, have been protected by federal law for 25 years. The BLM decides how many animals can survive on public lands, rounds up the excess animals and lets people adopt them for about $125 apiece. After a year, an adopter can receive a title to an animal, if the BLM finds the animal is receiving proper care.
The law says it is a crime to kill a wild horse or burro taken from public land. It prohibits anyone who adopts one of the animals from selling it for slaughter.
Mrs. Ludlum wanted to indict BLM officials for allowing horses to be slaughtered.
Recent AP investigations have found that thousands of the horses are eventually sold for slaughter, and that the whereabouts of tens of thousands of adopted but never titled animals are unknown. The BLM has attacked the AP's reports, saying its investigations show that slaughter "is occurring to a far, far lesser degree than was alleged."
Although Babbitt refused to speak, the last person to serve as his chief at BLM said Babbitt has known all about problems in the wild horse program for a long time.
Jim Baca, who quit as BLM director in 1994 after a falling out with Babbitt, said in an interview that he discovered the program was in turmoil and wanted to take steps to correct it.
He said Babbitt told him to back off.
"The orders were: 'Don't make waves, we've got enough problems,"' Baca said, adding that his efforts to shake up the program went nowhere.
"Babbitt thought it might cause problems and he didn't want any controversy, he didn't want to make anybody unhappy, and so this program just festered," Baca said. "When they wanted me to leave BLM, that was one of the reasons they gave me: 'Why the hell are you raising problems about horses?"'
At the time, Babbitt attributed Baca's departure to "different approaches to management style and consensus-building." Meanwhile, the federal investigation in Texas had begun.
Records show that the grand jury saw evidence and heard testimony that:
-- BLM agents placed 550 horses with dozens of people who were told they could do as they wished with the animals after a year, including sell them for slaughter to make money, which is against the law.
-- The BLM ignored its own regulations and gave the Choctaw Indian Nation 29 newly born, unbranded colts to sell so the tribe could raise cash to pay the BLM for a mass adoption of 115 wild horses, which is against the law.
-- A Texas BLM compliance officer, Don Galloway, arranged to keep 36 horses for himself and told two undercover investigators he planned to sell them for slaughter, which is against the law.
-- BLM managers pressured employees not to talk to investigators. In one case, a BLM district manager tipped off the subject of a search warrant that law enforcement agents were about to visit his house, which is against the law.
-- BLM officials falsified adoption documents and falsified computer records of brand identification numbers used to track adopted animals, which is against the law.
"We want these charges filed and we want to be notified of what was done, regardless of who these people are, please, ma'am," the grand jury foreman told Mrs. Ludlum, according to transcripts.
When the BLM in Washington realized the case was pointing in its direction, agency Law Enforcement Chief Walter Johnson wrote a letter to the Interior Department's internal watchdog, the inspector general, to register his concern.
"As the investigation continued, the scope and complexity ... increased to include scores of individuals including allegations against private citizens, and middle and upper management of the BLM," he wrote.
Johnson also sought assistance from the FBI's public corruption unit. FBI officials refused to comment.
The Del Rio case was shut down in July 1996.
The whole affair had begun with an affable old cowboy as its central character: Galloway.
Federal law restricts horse adoptions to four per person, per year. With his managers' support, Galloway was approving adoptions of more than 100 horses at a time by having one person gather signatures from family, friends and neighbors.
Using this technique, Galloway had placed more than 5,000 horses with adopters over about seven years. His work was commended by his superiors.
"I was doing my job, I was moving horses. I followed the law," Galloway said in a telephone interview from his home in Colleyville, Texas.
People within the program carefully skirted the issue of what would eventually happen to the horses, Galloway said. "Intent. That's the big word. I didn't know anybody's intent."
Galloway figures nearly all the horses he found homes for have been slaughtered by now. "We'd wear out a new car looking for those horses and not find but 10," he said.
Bill Sharp, who worked for the BLM with Galloway before retiring in 1994, denies any wrongdoing but acknowledged in an interview: "If I really was worried about intent then I probably wouldn't have adopted out any horses, because I believe 90 percent of these horses go to slaughter."
Sharp said they were working under the direction of Steve Henke, now a BLM district manager in Taos, N.M. Henke refused to comment.
In 1992, Galloway arranged an unusual adoption -- for himself. He placed 36 horses on a Texas ranch. The ranch owner's daughter said her father told her Galloway planned to "keep them on our ranch and then sell them for 60 cents a pound for slaughter."
Galloway denied he planned to kill the horses. However, an investigator said in a sworn affidavit that Galloway told undercover agents he intended to "get rid of all of them in a year, probably to the killer (slaughterhouse buyer)."
This evidence, which surfaced in 1992, later launched Mrs. Ludlum's case, which quickly broadened when investigators learned Galloway's supervisor, Henke, had alerted him that agents were en route to his house.
"You didn't clean out your files?" an investigator later asked Galloway.
"Well, a little bit," he replied, according to a grand jury transcript.
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