Thursday, April 14 at 10:15 a.m. PDT
LOS ANGELES – A San Bernardino County woman has been sentenced to 41 months in federal prison for using several websites to defraud would-be horse purchasers from across the nation with false promises about horses’ health and temperament.
Trina Lee Kenney, 32, of Wrightwood, was sentenced late yesterday by United States District Judge A. Howard Matz. In addition to the 41-month prison term, Judge Matz ordered Kenney to pay $272,609.50 in restitution to 88 victims.
In sentencing Kenney on Wednesday, Judge Matz cited the number of victims and Kenney’s indifference to the victims. Referring to the victims, Judge Matz told Kenney that she “broke their hearts and stole their money.”
Kenney pleaded guilty in October 2010 to mail fraud, specifically admitting that she defrauded prospective horse purchasers in 23 states and Canada. As part of the scheme, Kenney offered horses for sale in advertisements she placed on various Internet sites. Doing business under several names – including Prestige Distribution, Horses and Ponies, and Star Horses – Kenney advertised the horses for sale on websites such as dreamhorse.com, equine.com and horsetopia.com.
Kenney’s ads were fraudulent because she made false claims that the horses had specific physical characteristics, abilities and temperaments; that horses were specific breeds or had specific pedigrees; or that the horses were registered with national or international organizations. Kenney also made false claims about the horses’ health and a “money back” guarantee. After receiving payment for a horse purchase, Kenney defrauded customers in a number of ways, including failing to provide a horse, failing to refund monies to victims who received substandard horses, and delivering a different horse than promised.
During the fraud scheme, Kenney also falsely claimed that particular horses were safe for children and beginner riders. When she pleaded guilty, Kenney admitted that she drugged horses to make them appear docile and that she had painted at least two horses to make them appear black, rather than their natural brown color. Kenney further acknowledged that various horses she delivered were starved, were covered in sores and cuts, had hooves that had been untrimmed so the horses were unable to walk, or were suffering from strangles, a severely contagious equine respiratory disease.
In documents filed in relation to the sentencing, prosecutors argued that Kenney’s crimes “involved significant cruelty to helpless and often distressed animals dependant on [Kenney] for care.” The government sentencing memo quotes a former Kenney employee as reporting: “The question was not when the horses were fed, but ‘if’ the horses were fed or had water.”
After Kenney’s victims posted complaints about her fraudulent scheme on Internet bulletin boards and horse-related chat rooms, Kenney began using a series of aliases to conceal her identity and continue the fraudulent scheme.
Kenney attempted to sell a horse to an FBI agent and a United States Postal Inspector, who were both acting in an undercover capacity. After accepting $5,000 in payments for the purchase of “Azure” – a Friesian mare Kenney had fabricated – Kenney did not respond to inquiries from the undercover agents.
This case is the result of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the United States Postal Inspection Service.
CONTACT: Assistant United States Attorney Joseph N. Akrotirianakis
Release No. 11-057