Prominent racehorse breeder receives prison sentence for animal cruelty in thoroughbred abuse case
CATSKILL, N.Y. — Thoroughbred breeder and former Wall Street executive Ernie Paragallo, who has earned more than $20 million in purses in 20 years of racing, was led away in handcuffs Tuesday after being sentenced to up to two years in prison and a $33,000 fine for mistreating dozens of horses on his Hudson Valley farm.
The 52-year-old Long Island resident was charged after state police and animal welfare investigators raided his farm in Coxsackie in April 2009 and seized 177 starving, parasite-infested horses. Paragallo was convicted in March of 33 misdemeanor animal cruelty counts.
Greene County Court Judge George Pulver Jr. said he was imposing the maximum sentence because Paragallo had insisted the horses received proper care, because he had shown no remorse, and as a deterrent to future mistreatment by other horse owners.
Defense attorney Michael Howard said he planned to ask the judge to release Paragallo on bail pending the outcome of an appeal of the conviction. Before sentencing, Howard asked the judge for leniency, considering Paragallo's lack of a criminal record and his history of donations to thoroughbred charities.
Paragallo, wearing a black jacket, red golf shirt and sneakers, spoke briefly in court. "For the last 20 years, horses have been my life," he said. "I've taken care of all my horses."
Paragallo said when the farm manager at Center Brook, 20 miles south of Albany, told him the horses were in poor shape, he thought he took sufficient action to correct the problems.
"I take responsibility, I'm sorry for everything that happened," Paragallo said.
Pulver was unmoved.
"Your sense of integrity, your code of conduct, your perception of right and wrong, was perhaps formed by your days on either mean streets or Wall Street," Pulver said of Paragallo, a former Goldman Sachs Group and Deutsche Bank AG executive. "Money, the bottom line, and opulence in your mind trumps morality, honesty and civility."
Paragallo, former owner of 1996 Kentucky Derby favorite and fifth-place finisher Unbridled's Song, has had horses run in more than 4,500 races.
"I'm elated," said Colleen Segarra of Equine Rescue Resource, who drove two emaciated horses from Paragallo's Center Brook Farm to a state police barracks in April 2009, leading to the raid. "This is the first sentence for actual jail time directly connected to an equine cruelty case in New York."
Dist. Atty. Terry Wilhelm asked the judge to order Paragallo to pay $35,985 in restitution to the Columbia-Greene Humane Society for caring for the thoroughbreds from the time they were seized until they were adopted by other farms. He also asked for $10,802 for hospitalization of one of the thoroughbreds Segarra brought to police.
Pulver said the precise amount of restitution will be set in August.
The state Racing and Wagering Board has suspended Paragallo from racing at New York tracks.
The racing board has initiated administrative action that would prevent Paragallo from returning to racing and potentially impose civil fines related to the 33 counts of animal cruelty, said John Sabini, the board's chairman.
The board also has directed Paragallo to show cause why he should not be fined for knowingly racing horses whose owners weren't properly licensed and for concealing his own role as an owner of numerous horses that raced in New York, Sabini said.
-- Mary Esch, Associated Press
Photo: Ernie Paragallo, right, stands in court March 10 with his attorney, Michael Howard, in Catskill, N.Y. Credit: Lance Wheeler / Associated Press