Minnesota man gets jail time in horse mistreatment case

Farm Forum

PRESTON, Minn. — Wilbur Eugene Schmoll, the man accused of mistreating several horses on his farm near LeRoy, Minn., will end up spending about two weeks in jail for his crimes.

Schmoll was sentenced on Jan. 21 in Fillmore County District Court to 180 days in jail, with 150 days stayed. He was given credit for six days served.

Judge James Fabian staggered the two weeks, allowing Schmoll to serve one in October 2014, the other in June 2015.

The 81-year-old had pleaded guilty in November to one count each of disposal of animal carcasses by burial or burning, a gross misdemeanor; and mistreatment of an animal-deprive of food/shelter, a misdemeanor.

In exchange for the plea, 24 similar charges were dismissed.

Schmoll was also ordered to pay $1,500 in fines with $1,300 stayed, and $91 in court costs.

Fillmore County Attorney Brett Corson — himself a horse owner — was satisfied with the ruling.

“I think the judge tried to take into account all the factors, like the changes in the horse economy and the defendant’s age,” he said, all while realizing “how important this is to people who are passionate about the horses.”

Schmoll is also prohibited from owning horses in the future, Corson said, but Fabian would consider allowing it “if (Schmoll) showed he could take care of them again.”

Jim Lane, a member of the Minnesota Horse Coalition and an attorney who practiced equine law, said he was prepared for what he considers a light sentence.

“Relative to all the original charges, I thought the plea bargain was extremely diluted and didn’t provide for any accountability on the part of the defendant for the matter; he has literally starved scores of horses over what must have been a long time,” he said.

“My frustration is from the lack of accountability that flows” from the sentence, Lane said, “but I guess to put an 80-year-old guy in jail for a year probably doesn’t solve the problem either.”

Still, he said, “how does the criminal justice system signal a deterrent to other animal owners when there aren’t some harsh penalties imposed when this kind of thing happens?”

According to the complaint filed in December 2012, a sheriff’s deputy entered the property to contact Schmoll about an animal welfare complaint on Nov. 25, 2012. At that time, Schmoll was in the hospital due to injuries that he said he suffered in a farm accident on Nov. 20.

While the deputy was at Schmoll’s farm, a neighbor was there feeding and watering the horses, the complaint says. The man had given the horses four large bales of hay and had put water in three tanks. Four additional bales of hay were sitting next to the road to be fed to the animals at a later time.

But the deputy also observed about 50 or so horses in different stages of health. He didn’t see any heaters in the water tanks and that there was no shelter for the animals. About six dead horses were piled in a shallow hole.

Schmoll had a history of buying or acquiring debilitated horses, often from auctions, with the intent of rehabilitating them for subsequent sale at a profit, which the complaint acknowledges.

Yet, the complaint also alleged Schmoll had a long history of animal neglect and was either unable or unwilling to provide adequate care for his horses. Graphic descriptions of starving horses, with many suffering from untreated conditions such as pneumonia, eye problems, infections, parasites, lameness and overgrown hooves, were included in the complaint.

Five of the animals, for which Schmoll signed over custody to the Minnesota Animal Humane Society, were in such poor health that they were euthanized after being transported to the University of Minnesota Large Animal Hospital in St. Paul for intensive care and forensic examination.