Defendant Joseph Fraga Rafael, 67 years old of Cloverdale, was ordered to pay $76,816.79 in restitution to the Sonoma County Change Organization (CHANGE,) a non-profit dedicated to preventing equine abuse, following a hearing held by the Honorable Peter Ottenweller on Wednesday December 16 in Sonoma County Superior Court. The defendant had pled “no contest” to three counts of felony animal neglect/abuse on June 7, 2018 and was sentenced to five years of probation and 240 hours of community service work. He was also ordered not to possess animals for five years. At the time of his plea the court ordered that the specific amount of restitution was to be determined at a later date.
The underlying charges in the case resulted from a law enforcement investigation conducted in March, 2018 that discovered a deceased horse on the defendant’s property. A further search uncovered 12 additional horses without adequate food and shelter. The horses were found to be extremely malnourished and had various untreated medical conditions. The horses were seized by Sonoma County Animal Services and then transferred to CHANGE; the organization then treated, rehabilitated, and rehomed all 12 horses. The horses all remained in the care of CHANGE for anywhere from three months to two years. The restitution amount reflected the expenses incurred by CHANGE in rehabilitating and housing the horses.
The case was prosecuted by Deputy District Attorneys Marianna Green and Jessalee Mills. The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office and Sonoma County Animal Services headed the investigation.