The owner of a Rancho Santa Margarita animal breeding business pleaded guilty to 12 counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty over horrendous conditions found at his company facility in Lake Elsinore, where tens of thousands of dead or suffering snakes and rodents were seized in December 2012.
Global Captive Breeders owner Mitchell Steven Behm is expected to be sentenced April 15 to five years probation, during which he would be prohibited from entering any business venture related to animals.
The 55-year-old is also expected to be ordered to pay $158,000 in restitution at the Riverside County courthouse hearing, according to a statement from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which helped bring the conditions of the Lake Elsinore facility to the attention of authorities.
Behm's manager David Delgado, who has also gone by Jose Magana, is also expected to be sentenced May 22 to five years probation. The 30-year-old also pleaded guilty to 12 counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty and is also expected to be banned from animal-related business ventures during his probation period.
A two-month PETA investigation produced eyewitness accounts and video and photographic evidence that revealed that tens of thousands of animals were left to starve, drown and suffer without even basic veterinary care at Global Captive Breeders. State and county officials swooped in to seize more than 16,000 suffering rodents and snakes in what was the largest seizure of animals ever in California, according to PETA.
"By far, this is the most severe and large-scale single facility forcing animals to live in vile and horrific conditions that I have experienced in my nearly 30 years as an animal cruelty investigator," Captain Cindy Machado, the Marin Humane Society animal services director who helped lead the investigative team, said at the time.
Daphna Nachminovitch, PETA's senior vice president of Cruelty Investigations, says in a statement: "What went on at Global Captive Breeders–where employees bludgeoned rats and left reptiles to starve to death slowly–shows the shocking extent of cruelty in the reptile and small-'pet' trade.
"PETA thanks the Riverside County District Attorney's Office for taking these crimes seriously and demonstrating that abuse of animals won't be tolerated."
Her organization first encountered Behm in the mid-'80s, when as a college student he videotaped himself throwing rats, mice and rabbits into a bathtub with ferrets that attacked and killed them. Behm, who could not be prosecuted because the statute of limitations had expired by the time law enforcement received the video, is said by PETA to have admitted conducting unapproved "experiments" in part for his own "enjoyment."
On the next page are some photos from the Global Captive Breeders' investigation …