NORTHWEST MIAMI-DADE, FLA. (WSVN) - Law enforcement officials have arrested a man accused of operating a horse slaughterhouse in Miami and illegally selling horse meat.
According to the State Attorney’s Office, an investigation conducted by the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, the Miami-Dade Police Department and the United States Department of Agriculture led to the arrest of 70-year-old Manuel Coto-Martinez.
7Skyforce HD hovered above the suspected slaughterhouse as dozens of agents raided the Northwest Miami-Dade property, located at 13202 N.W. 182nd St., Friday morning.
Coto-Martinez has been charged with one count of unlawful sale of horse meat, as well as one count of unlawful use of a two-way communication. Both charges are third degree felonies.
Officials became aware of Coto-Martinez and his illegal horse slaughterhouse through a confidential informant, back in September. Police said the horse meat being sold by Coto-Martinez went for $7 a pound.
The informant and undercover detectives bought horse meat from Coto-Martinez three times over a span of two months. Most recently, on Nov. 10, an undercover detective from MDPD bought 20 pounds of frozen horse meat for $140 directly from the suspect over a span of two months.
Coto-Martinez was told that the horse meat was to be consumed by an anemic child. MDPD explained they used this excuse since it is a common belief by many that horse meat can cure or aid anemia and other conditions.
Furthermore, MDPD determined the packaging of the frozen horse meat was “not clearly stamped, marked and described as horse meat for human consumption” and the horse meat was “not acquired from a licensed slaughterhouse.”
According to the USDA, there is currently no facility in the United States that is licensed to slaughter horses for human consumption.
“This unregulated slaughter of horses and un-inspected meat presents a real safety and food security issue that puts lives in jeopardy and our agricultural community at risk,” said State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle.
On Friday, Celia Frau, who rents a stall for her horse on the property for years, was shocked to hear of the illegal operation that was being run.
Frau said she has known the family for decades. “I’ve known them since I was 17, and I got my first horse,” she said.
A friend of Coto-Martinez was also shocked by the arrest. “I don’t believe it,” said Andy Rodriguez.
“Never, never would I have thought that he was selling horse meat,” said Frau. “That to me is like cannibalism. I’m sorry. I’ve been into horses since I was 17, and I love them dearly. This is shocking.”
“I never saw a horse in there,” said Rodriguez. “I mean, we have horses in there, but to ride it, not to eat it.”
At first Frau said she was immediately removing her horse from the property after hearing about the allegations. “Heavens to Betsy, you think I could keep my horse here?” she said.
However, she later told 7News that after speaking to the family, she no longer knew if she would remove her horse from the property.
Hours after his arrest, friends and family of Coto-Martinez gathered at the ranch. They insisted he is innocent.
“I don’t think so,” said Rodriguez. “I don’t know. You never know.”
If convicted, Coto-Martinez faces a maximum of 10 years in prison if convicted.
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