One of two men who ran a Lake Elsinore animal breeding facility where reptiles and rodents were kept in appalling conditions and often starved to death was sentenced Wednesday to five years probation.
Mitchell Steven Behm, 55, of Coto de Caza, was arrested last July in connection with acts of cruelty against thousands of animals caged at his business -- Global Captive Breeders on Third Street.
On April 4, the Riverside County District Attorney's Office and the defense announced a plea agreement under which Behm admitted a dozen misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty, while his co-defendant, 29-year-old David Delgado of Rialto, admitted a dozen felony counts of animal cruelty.
Each man was originally charged with 117 felonies.
Superior Court Judge Judith Clark sentenced Behm to 60 months probation and ordered him to pay $190,725 in restitution, which will be divided between People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the city of Lake Elsinore. Behm was also ordered to perform 200 hours of community service, according to court records.
Delgado is due back in court on May 22. The defendant, who is free on $50,000 bail, could face up to five years behind bars.
Behm owned Global Captive Breeders, where Delgado worked as the full- time manager.
Wildomar-based Animal Friends of the Valleys, a nonprofit that provides animal control services for contracting cities throughout southwest Riverside County, initiated an investigation of the business after receiving information that rodents, exotic snakes and other creatures were being abused. The rodents were raised for reptile food.
An undercover PETA investigator got a job working at the site and kept a record of what transpired over a two-month span, according to the District Attorney's office.
Delgado was witnessed "causing traumatic injury or death to numerous rodents," said D.A.'s office spokesman John Hall, who said Behm was fully aware of what was happening.
"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," said Daphna Nachminovitch, PETA senior vice president of cruelty investigations.
The city of Lake Elsinore ordered the business shuttered in December 2012 after AFV conducted a search and seizure at the site. According to agency officials, around 15,000 rodents and 500 reptiles were found dead or had to be euthanized.
– City News Service.