By Amy Worden,The Philadelphia Inquirer
HARRISBURG — Kelsey Lefever was well-known in the Pennsylvania horse world.
The 24-year-old horse trainer from Chester County competed at the Devon Horse Show and traded show ponies and draft horses on the Internet. At Penn National, near Harrisburg, one of the biggest racetracks in the state, she schmoozed thoroughbred owners, telling them she would find great homes for their horses when their racing careers were over.
In fact, state police allege, Lefever was selling the horses — as many as 120, by her admission — to contractors for a Canadian slaughterhouse, where they were butchered and shipped overseas for human consumption.
Lefever, of Honeybrook, was arrested in November and charged with five counts of fraud — three of them felonies — for selling four horses last May to a “kill buyer” who transported them to an abattoir in Quebec.
A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Feb. 6.
Lefever’s attorney, Joseph Reilley Jr. of King of Prussia, did not respond to a phone call seeking comment.
One horse owner, Kevin Patterson, told a state police investigator that he gave his retired racehorse, a five-year-old thoroughbred named Beau Jaques, to Lefever with the understanding that the horse — which had suffered a career-ending injury — would be rehabilitated and placed for adoption. He also gave her $200 and 10 bags of feed to help care for the horse until it had a permanent home.
Patterson said he donated Beau Jaques with the understanding that under no circumstances was it to be sold for slaughter. Lefever assured him that she never sent any horses to slaughter, according to court documents.
He later learned that Beau Jaques was sold to Bruce Rotz, a well-known horse meat buyer, and ended up on a trailer bound for a Canadian slaughter plant.
When a woman who was supposed to adopt Beau Jaques told Lefever that Patterson was looking for the horse, Lefever told her “those crazy people don’t have to look for their horse anymore because he is in a box in a freezer,” according to court documents.
Rescue groups that go to a weekly auction in New Holland and purchase horses that might otherwise be sold for slaughter say Lefever was making about $300 a horse from the kill buyers.
Two checks from Rotz to Lefever, obtained by police, totaled just over $1,500. One marked “four horses” was made out in the amount of $1,286.50.
Sue Smith, executive director of CANTER PA, a group that facilitates adoptions by advertising horses for trainers at Penn National, said that even when trainers want to do the right thing, it can be difficult to separate good rescuers from bad.
“It’s a gray area. The best we can recommend is getting a no-slaughter contract and check out references,” she said.
Connor Langan, trainer and manager at Great Scott horse farm in Malvern, said he checked out Lefever’s references before he hired her as a trainer and riding instructor just before Christmas.
But she never mentioned the fraud case pending against her, he said.
When Langan learned of the charges on Monday, he fired Lefever.
“As a family-owned business, it’s not something we tolerate,” Langan said.
News of the allegations against Lefever has gone viral in the cyber horse world and comes as more racetracks institute anti-slaughter policies.
Many tracks now forbid trainers and owners from dumping horses at auctions like the one in New Holland.
At PhiladelphiaPark — which runs an adoption program supported by the track, jockeys, and horsemen — and Penn National, trainers can lose stall privileges if they are found to have knowingly sold horses at auction.
PhiladelphiaPark has long contracted its retraining and adoption services to two rescue groups.
Penn National has no prohibition against trainers or owners giving away horses to outside adoption groups.
The trainers involved in the Lefever case “entered into arrangements in good faith and did their due diligence,” said Fred Lipkin, spokesman for Penn National.
Lipkin said security had been tightened at the gates and discussions were under way about how to respond to fraudulent rescues.
“I don’t know that we can enact a new policy,” he said. “The components are in place. We just have to ensure they are enforced.”