RIVERSIDE, Calif. - A Southern California exotic pet breeder who had 20,000 dead and dying rats and reptiles in a warehouse has avoided jail time but was ordered to pay more than $190,000 in restitution.
Mitchell Steven Behm, 55, of Coto de Caza, also was sentenced to five years of probation and 200 hours of community service at a hearing Wednesday.
He owned Global Captive Breeders in Lake Elsinore, 70 miles southeast of Los Angeles, which sold exotic snakes and reptiles, along with rats for reptile food.
Behm and business manager David Delgado were arrested and initially charged with more than 100 counts each of felony animal cruelty. Behm negotiated a deal, pleading to a dozen misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty. Under its terms, Behm won't be able to own any animals or operate any animal-related businesses.
Delgado, 30, of Rialto, has pleaded guilty to a dozen felony counts and faces more than five years in prison. His sentencing hearing is in May.
In 2012, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals received a tip from a whistleblower and sent in an undercover investigator.
After two months of documentation from PETA, animal control workers entered the warehouse, only to find themselves gasping for air and running for the exits because of the stench.
Some of the animals already were dead when rescue workers arrived. Veterinarians determined that those still living were too sick to treat and too toxic to move, so they had to be euthanized.
The restitution Behm had to pay included $102,000 to the city and about $88,000 to PETA. Behm already has paid most of the bill, with the balance due in 90 days.
"No punishment could compare to the daily horror that thousands of rodents and reptiles endured at Global Captive Breeders, but this sentence is an important step," said Daphna Nachminovitch, senior vice president of cruelty investigations for PETA.
"Animals at GCB lived miserably and died in fear and pain. Confined to cramped, filthy bins, they slowly starved, drowned, or languished without veterinary care in nightmarish conditions typical of suppliers to the pet trade industry. Behm's restitution to PETA will allow us to continue to expose such cruelty to animals, wherever it occurs," Nachminovitch said.