04/09/2009 11:00PM

Paragallo charged with animal abuse

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Ernie Paragallo, whose horses have been a mainstay on the New York racing circuit for more than a decade, was arrested on Friday and charged with 22 counts of animal abuse involving 177 horses on his Center Brook Farm in Climax, N.Y, according to the state police.

Paragallo, 51, was arraigned on Friday afternoon at the Coxsackie Town Court and released on bail, according to the police. Each animal-abuse count carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $1,000 fine.

Following the arrest, the New York State Racing and Wagering Board revoked Paragallo's license as an authorized agent in New York, which will prohibit him from the grounds of any racetrack in the state. Paragallo had said on Thursday that he planned to surrender the license on April 16.

"After we learned from the state police today that Mr. Paragallo was being charged with cruel treatment of horses at Center Brook Farm, the racing and wagering board immediately terminated his privilege to be involved with Thoroughbred racing in New York," said racing board chairman John D. Sabini in a prepared statement.

Police and animal-welfare officials served a search warrant at Paragallo's farm on Wednesday. They issued a statement after the search claiming that all 177 horses on the farm were suffering from "varying degrees of malnutrition" and had not been given proper veterinary care or shelter.

The police seized the horses, though none has been moved from the farm. Their care is now the responsibility of the Columbia-Green Humane Society, whose officials provided the assessment of whether the horses were malnourished and mistreated to the police.

On Friday, the police also said that Paragallo had "transferred custody" of 67 horses on the farm to the Columbia-Greene Humane Society "for future adoption."

The New York statute covering animal cruelty is broad, though several clauses relate to the feeding of animals. In part, it states that "a person who . . . deprives any animal of necessary sustenance, food or drink, or neglects or refuses to furnish it such sustenance or drink . . . or to be deprived of necessary food or drink . . . is guilty of a misdemeanor." The statute also states anyone who "tortures" or "unjustifiably injures, maims, mutilates, or kills any animal" is guilty of a misdemeanor.

On Thursday, Ron Perez, the president of the Columbia-Green Humane Society, said a young stallion had died on the farm earlier that day.

Paragallo has denied that he intentionally neglected the horses. He has said that he became aware of problems with his farm's feeding program earlier this winter, and that his farm staff was attempting to remedy the problems. However, Paragallo, who did not return phone calls Friday following his arraignment, has said he had not been to the farm in nine months.

On Thursday, the New York Racing Association, which operates Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga Racecourse, adopted a policy that prohibits Paragallo from entering any of the horses he owns in races at the three tracks, citing the ongoing investigation.

Paragallo lives in Lloyd's Neck, Long Island. His racing stable, Paraneck Stable, is owned by two of his daughters, Jennifer, 26, and Kristen, 25. The ownership interests were transferred in 2005 after Paragallo had his owner's license revoked in New York for improper business dealings.

A spokesman for the wagering board, Joe Mahoney, said that the licenses for Paragallo's daughters "are being reviewed as part of an ongoing investigation" by the board that includes subpoenas of the financial records of Paraneck.

In 2000, Paraneck tied with four other owners for the leading owner title for the Belmont Park fall meet. In 2006, Paraneck was the co-leading owner for the Aqueduct fall meet.

Paragallo's most famous horse was Unbridled's Song, the champion 2-year-old colt of 1995 and the winner of the Florida Derby and Wood Memorial in 1996. Unbridled's Song now stands in Kentucky at Taylor Made Farm for a $112,500 stud fee.