KENTLAND — A man accused of abusing calves on a large northwestern Indiana farm has been sentenced to a year of probation after a felony charge was dropped.
Edgar Gardozo-Vasquez, 36, is one of three former employees of popular agritourism destination Fair Oaks Farms charged with a misdemeanor for animal cruelty following the release of undercover video showing workers kicking and throwing young calves, officials said in June.
Gardozo-Vasquez pleaded guilty Monday before being sentenced, according to Newton County court records. He had also been charged with a felony count of torturing or mutilating a vertebrate animal. But Newton County Prosecutor Jeff Drinski said that charge was dropped.
Charles Dargo, Gardozo-Vasquez's attorney, did not immediately respond to messages Thursday seeking comment.
“I didn’t know that a jury would find him guilty of this felony, based on the statute,” Drinski said. “I don’t know that he mutilated or tortured an invertebrate animal, based on the video that I saw. I’m satisfied by the plea, and I’ll stand by it.”
Animal Recovery Mission, a Miami-based animal rights group, released video footage shot by a ARM activist who secretly recorded the abuse last year during a stint at the Prairies Edge North Barn site.
Richard Couto, the founder of ARM, said he was not surprised with the lighter sentence.
“I’ve seen these cases handled this way, with charges dropped or reduced hundreds of times,” Couto said. “Arrests and charges brought are usually to please the media and the public. … Change will come from the consumer, not the courts. Sad for the animals at Fair Oaks.”
Fair Oaks Farms and its Dairy Adventure draws 500,000 visitors a year and is a popular destination for school field trips. Food & Wine magazine has called the “Disneyland of agricultural tourism.” Couto said that claim was a reason ARM investigators went there, looking to reveal what he called commonplace practices at large livestock operation in a place designed to appeal to a friendly place for families.
Earlier this year ARM released two investigations that captured Fair Oaks Farms employees beating and injuring cows. Since then, one of three wanted suspects in the Newton County Sheriff's Office investigation has been arrested, and two federal lawsuits have been filed against Fairlife Milk.
Mike McCloskey, Fair Oaks Farms' founder, responded with videos of his own, taking responsibility for a breakdown in training and oversight of what he called a few bad employees. He promised regular audits, better training and cameras that could show areas where there are interactions between humans and animals.
The images sparked nationwide protests and boycotts of the state's largest dairy.
Fair Oaks Farms is the flagship farm for Fairlife, a national brand of higher protein, higher calcium and lower fat milk. Retailers began pulling Fairlife products from their shelves in June.
The other two employees, Santiago Ruvalcaba Contreros, 31, and Miguel Angel Navarro, 38, have not been located and arrested. Drinski said felony warrants were still out for them.
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