A federal grand jury has accused three area residents of soring horses.
A four count indictment was returned on Barney Davis, 38, of Lewisburg, Christen Altman, 25, of Shelbyville, and Jeffery Bradford, 33, of Lewisburg.
All three were arrested and appeared in U.S. District Court in Chattanooga late Friday.
Davis, Altman and Bradford allegedly conspired to violate the federal Horse Protection Act by soring horses and falsifying entry forms and other related paperwork, according to the federal indictment.
Soring is a unlawful practice in which a horse's hooves or legs are irritated with objects or chemicals in order to alter the horse's gait.
The indictment alleges that from 2002 to October 2010, Davis, Altman and Bradford "and others known and unknown to the grand jury" conspired to sore the horses and falsify documents.
According to the indictment, the object of the conspiracy was to sore horses without being detected by the USDA and Designated Qualified Persons (DQP) so that additional customers would pay Davis to board and train their horses at his barn. DQPs are inspectors who check horses competing in horse shows for evidence of soring.
It is alleged that Davis owned a business training spotted saddle horses, and that "others known and unknown" used various methods to sore the horses to improve their gait by placing bolts in the animals' feet, taping blocks to the horses' feet and "other soring methods."
Davis allegedly would mask the soring by removing the devices before inspection and giving the horses shots to reduce their reaction to the inspection.
Altman and Davis also allegedly used other people as nominee trainers to obtain trainer's licenses, and that Davis would protect himself from being cited for violations by using the nominees to enter and show the horses he trained.
Davis, Altman and Bradford also allegedly agreed to falsify entry forms and other paperwork for various shows by claiming that Bradford and others were the trainers for horses actually trained by Davis.
The indictment claims that in May 2010, Altman paid the trainer's license fee for Bradford and that on or about July 30, 2010, Davis placed a bolt in the hoof of the horse Jose Is My Daddy prior to a horse show in Manchester.
Altman allegedly falsely listed Bradford as the trainer for the horse in the Manchester show and allegedly forged his signature.
Then in September of last year, Davis allegedly advised potential witnesses not to cooperate with any investigation into his alleged soring practices.
After Davis was banned for life from participating in horse shows, he entered horses he was paid to train in the Spotted Saddle Horse Breeders and Exhibitors' Association fall show in Shelbyville last October.
Altman allegedly claimed on Oct. 13, 2010 that Bradford was scheduled to participate and act as a trainer in the Manchester horse show on Davis' behalf. Bradford also allegedly made the same claim.
The investigation leading to the indictment was initiated in August 2010 and was conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General, "which has the authority to investigate criminal violations of the Horse Protection Act including allegations related to soring and false entries or statements," the Justice Department said.
A press release from the Department of Justice quoted United States Attorney Bill Killian saying that "the alleged violations in this indictment undermine the equine industry and give unfair advantage to some over others, in addition to causing cruelty to the animals."
"We will always pursue cases involving the falsification of federal records," Killian said.
Special Agent-in-Charge Karen Citizen-Wilcox, Southeast Region, stated, "The USDA-OIG will continue to aggressively pursue violations of the Horse Protection Act in order to protect horses and competitors from illegal and unfair acts and practices."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Neff will prosecute the case on behalf of the United States.