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Charges Are Filed Against 2 in Tigers' Deaths

Animal rescuers face 63 counts in the discovery of 90 carcasses and other starving exotic cats at their Glen Avon home.

May 21, 2003|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

Prosecutors on Tuesday filed 63 charges against animal rescuer John Weinhart and his partner, Marla Smith, less than a month after authorities found 90 dead tigers at their home in Glen Avon.

"To me, the evidence speaks for itself in this one," said Paul Dickerson, the Riverside County deputy district attorney who will prosecute Weinhart and Smith.

Weinhart and Smith are charged with 17 felonies, including child endangerment for allegedly exposing their 8-year-old son to such unsafe conditions as two alligators in a bathtub, feces-riddled floors and the presence of full-grown tigers in their yard.

When county authorities raided the home April 22, they turned the boy over to social workers.

County and family officials would not say Tuesday who is caring for the child.

Weinhart and Smith, who run the Tiger Rescue sanctuary for exotic felines in Colton, denied any wrongdoing through a spokesman.

"People flapping their gums about things they know nothing about," said Tiger Rescue spokesman Steve Jeffries.

Weinhart and Smith could each be sentenced to up to 16 years in prison if convicted, Dickerson said.

The 16 felonies for animal cruelty were not based on the discovery of the dead tigers, including 58 cubs stuffed into freezers, or other tiger remains found in the yard, Dickerson said. Rather, the charges were based on the conditions of the living animals found on the premises: two grown tigers who were later euthanized, two burros, a goat and nine tiger cubs and two leopard cubs found in an attic.

Difficulties in estimating when the frozen tiger cubs had died led investigators to focus their charges on the conditions of those animals found alive, a district attorney source said.

Weinhart also faces 14 misdemeanor charges in San Bernardino County for neglecting animals at Tiger Rescue.

Jeffries, the Tiger Rescue spokesman, said Weinhart is only trying to help the animals, many of which come from the circus and entertainment industries. "That's not animal cruelty," Jeffries said. "The worst they can do to us is give us some citations.... We feel like we're being railroaded. For 40 years, no one had a problem with how John cared for his animals. Now, in a three-month span, he's cruel and malicious? It doesn't make sense."

Dickerson said he did not file charges against Wendelin Rae Ringel Moore, a veterinarian who was arrested at the Glen Avon home along with Weinhart and Smith. Dickerson said there was no evidence Ringel Moore was responsible for the animals' care.

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