CHATTANOOGA, TN—Jackie L. McConnell, 60, of Collierville, Tennessee; John Mays, 50, of Collierville, Tennessee; and Joseph R. Abernathy, 30, of Olive Branch, Mississippi, pleaded guilty on May 22, 2012 in U.S. District Court in Chattanooga to charges related to the conspiracy to violate the Horse Protection Act. Charges are still pending against a fourth individual charged in this case.
Sentencing has been set for McConnell, Mays, and Abernathy at 9:00 a.m. on September 10, 2012 in U.S. District Court in Chattanooga. McConnell faces a term of up to five years in prison, a $250,000.00 fine, supervised release for up to three years, and a $100 special assessment. Mays and Abernathy both face up to one year in prison, a $3,000 fine, up to one year of supervised release, and a $25 special assessment.
McConnell and his wife own and operate Whitter Stables in Collierville, Tennessee, where he trains and boards Tennessee Walking Horses for shows. Mays and Abernathy were employees of Whitter Stables as assistants, grooms, and farriers.
As contained in the plea agreements on file with the U.S. District Court in Chattanooga, McConnell admitted that he conspired with Mays, Abernathy, and others to violate the Horse Protection Act in various ways. At all times relevant to the indictment, McConnell was on suspension from entering horses into shows. Nevertheless, he continued to train horses by soring, transporting, entering, and showing them at horse shows while on suspension. He trained horses using illegal soring methods such as the application of banned chemicals to the horses’ pasterns, which caused painful burning to their legs. He then arranged for them to be taken to the shows, where he stayed on the grounds outside the warmup areas, as required due to his disqualified status, and directed others how to show the horse. At the shows, he submitted entry paperwork that falsely stated that someone else was the trainer of the sored horses. He took steps to camouflage the damage to the horses by instructing others to apply magic markers and other masking devices to the horses’ legs prior to inspection. The horses were transported in a truck and trailer owned by McConnell, which he is agreeing to forfeit to the United States as part of the plea agreement.
The case arose from an undercover investigation conducted by the Humane Society of the United States, which resulted in the creation of evidence instrumental to the case. The USDA Office of Inspector General and Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted the follow-up investigation, including the execution of search warrants at McConnell’s temporary stables in Shelbyville and his barn in Collierville during the 2011 Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Steven S. Neff and M. Kent Anderson represent the United States.