Two men have been charged with more than 100 counts each of felony animal cruelty for the way they treated many of nearly 20,000 rats and reptiles found dead, dying or diseased at a breeding center in Lake Elsinore, authorities said Monday.
During a December raid, a team of veterinarians determined that all of the animals still alive at Global Captive Breeders had to be euthanized because they were suffering. The company was a wholesale distributor of exotic snakes, other reptiles and rodents.
The Riverside County district attorney filed the case Friday and a judge issued warrants for owner Mitchell Steven Behm, 54, and company manager David Delgado, also known as Jose Magana, 29. Behm was arrested at his home in Coto de Casa and Delgado was arrested in Rialto.
A message left for Behm's attorney was not immediately returned. An attorney for Delgado could not be located.
Behm and Delgado are each charged with 106 counts of animal cruelty, said district attorney's spokesman John Hall. Behm was released on $50,000 bail Saturday. Delgado was still in custody Monday. His bail was also $50,000, although he was charged with 11 added counts of direct torture or killing of rodents.
The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals initiated the investigation after sending an undercover operative to work at the breeding facility for two months.
Sheila Risinger, an animal control officer for Animal Friends of the Valley, who took part in the raid and wrote the declaration in support of warrants, said Behm told her all his Ball pythons had an incurable disease.
A video taken by the PETA officer identified Delgado as the one who "caused animals to suffer and die a very cruel death," Risinger wrote, noting he could be seen beating animals with a rack, throwing them on the ground and shooting them with a BB gun.
"The animals are neglected to the point that the suffering is unconscionable," she said.
Delgado told her the water system was constantly malfunctioning.
Eighteen thousand rats and 560 reptiles were found in the building, many of them in different stages of decomposition in filthy cages, Risinger said.
"PETA and other first responders and rescue workers will never be able to get the memory of thousands of animals left to starve, drown, and dehydrate to death out of their minds," said Daphna Nachminovitch, PETA's senior vice president of cruelty investigations.