Joseph Mayer 39 farm animals found, 31 seized

Lower Nazareth Township, PA

Northampton County

February 2, 2001
  73 farm animals seized

Nazareth, PA

Northampton County

October 20, 2004
  9 ponies, 2 horses, 1 donkey, 1 mule seized, 1 pony found dead

Easton, PA

Northampton County

December 13, 2008

In Joe Mayer 's eyes, it's a vendetta and a case of "judging a book by its cover."

To the Northampton County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, it's a case of severe neglect.

The SPCA seized 31 of Mayer's 39 animals, alleging some were sick and others severely underweight because they were not fed properly or given enough water. Horses, ponies, goats and a steer were taken from Mayer's Stables on Hollo Road in Lower Nazareth Township.

Mayer claimed that the SPCA never contacted him after a visit in October and said he was doing what a veterinarian had advised to help his animals maintain their weights, a task he said was made more difficult because of cold weather.

He said he tried different types of feed and said his bills skyrocketed because of it. He said in January alone, he spent nearly $1,200 on feed and another $420 in veterinary care.

"You can't do it overnight and you can't do it in two months," he said, adding he is at the stables early each morning and again at night.

Mayer said he has documents to show he called an area veterinarian 11 times since October regarding the care of his animals.

He also claimed SPCA informants covet some of his animals.  "There were no starving animals here." Mayer said.

The SPCA sees it differently. Cruelty investigator Kathy Andrews said that after October, she was told by Mayer she wouldn't be allowed back on his property, which is not far from Route 248.

She said his allegations were false. "This was a building case. It was a case of severe neglect," she said in response to his claims. "There is so much he could have done to make things better. He could have listened."

Mayer, a part-time truck driver, said he has owned animals for 21 years and never had problems before. He said his neighbors are willing to vouch for him. He said he sometimes takes the horses and ponies to local events, where he offers rides.

For now, Mayer said he's willing to talk with the SPCA, but he wants his animals returned. "I am prepared to defend my case up to the U.S. Supreme Court," he said. Mayer faces 39 counts of cruelty to animals, summary offenses. The case will be heard by District Justice Joseph Barner of Lower Nazareth.

Mayer said one of his ponies fell on ice in January and broke two legs. He said he took the animal to the University of Pennsylvania to see if it could be saved, but the animal ultimately had to be destroyed. "It cost me $856, but I'm accused of cruelty to animals," Mayer said.

"To me this is a prime example of an overzealous person with a badge."

Andrews said that one of the animals taken was a steer that was 400 pounds underweight. Mayer said the steer was a pet and not one being fattened for slaughter.

Andrews said, "The bottom line is he is a very stubborn man. He thinks everybody is out to get him."

Update 6/8/01:  Lower Nazareth Township farm owner Joe Mayer and those who charged him with animal cruelty finally met in court, but after three hours of testimony, the case is far from over.

About 25 more witnesses, including about 20 from the defense, are still slated to take the stand in the summary trial before District Justice Joseph Barner of Lower Nazareth. Because of other court commitments, testimony was suspended and will start up again on an as yet unscheduled date. A full additional day of testimony is anticipated, according to both sides.

SPCA police officer Kathy Andrews, who filed 39 counts of animal cruelty against Mayer, told Northampton County Assistant District Attorney Abraham Kassis that "deplorable" was the only word to describe the conditions at Mayer's small farm. Mayer, of Bethlehem, has pleaded not guilty to all the charges and his attorney, Christopher Shipman, said Mayer spent thousands of dollars on the care and feeding of the animals and was working to improve the condition of the herd when the charges were filed.

"We believe he is not criminally culpable," Shipman said.

Mayer has said he was trying to get his animals to gain weight but winter conditions made that difficult. "They reacted too quickly is what they did," referring to law enforcement.

Prosecutors see it differently and allege Mayer failed to heed advice given to him in a visit in October, months before the animals were seized. Andrews testified there was little water available for the animals when they were seized in February. She described containers that were empty and others that were frozen or contained feces. She said there was insufficient feed and there were possibly one or two animals that "had a little bit of grain."

Included among the animals at the farm, Andrews said, was a lame horse that had no access to water and a black pygmy goat that was so sick it could not get up. About eight animals, including a llama, were not seized by the SPCA because they were not in any immediate danger, Andrews said.

Shipman, during cross-examination, said investigators were not at the farm early in the morning, or early evening, when the animals were fed and given water. Veterinarian Edgar Balliet III of Northampton, who said he has helped treat Mayer's animals for more than a decade, testified that most of the animals he saw in an October visit were thin but not emaciated. He said he suggested better watering and higher-quality feed.

Two veterinarians who examined several of the animals taken from the Mayer farm said the animals were very underweight. They admitted, however, that the weight problem could have been from low-quality feed as much as lack of feed.

Update 7/13/01:  With about 10 hours of testimony completed in the animal cruelty case of Joe Mayer , the Lower Nazareth Township stable owner has been painted as either a man who left his nearly 40 animals in squalid conditions with inadequate food and water, or a person who cared for his animals and did all he could for them.

The summary trial started June 7 before District Justice Joseph Barner. The defense will need at least another full day of testimony to finish its case, said Mayer's attorney, Christopher Shipman.

Veterinarian Dr. Laurinda Wessel testified that conditions at Mayer's farm property Feb. 2 were "extremely poor," and contended there was significant crowding, inadequate bedding and, in one case, more than a foot of manure in one stall.

Wessel told Northampton County Assistant District Attorney Abraham Kassis she considered most of the approximately 20 donkeys, horses and ponies taken from the farm to be in either poor or extremely poor condition. She said many of the animals had lice. Others, she said, had problems including teeth that hadn't been properly maintained.

Wessel said she believed it would have taken a long time for the animals to be as underweight as they were found in early February. "My opinion is that they were not receiving adequate feed," she said.

She told Kassis that ponies and donkeys can get by on less food than horses. "It would seem to me it would take them a very long time to go downhill," she said. "They get by on very little."

Shipman pointed out that photos of Mayer's farm taken the day the animals were seized show hay on the ground, but SPCA investigator Kathy Andrews testified she and others put that feed on the ground to entice the animals from their stalls.

Cynthia Carruthers, an employee of Waltz Creek Farm in Ackermanville, where Mayer sometimes bought supplies, said she went to his farm in late January and found emaciated animals with no bedding or water. She said she called the SPCA.

Mayer, who lives in Bethlehem, has not disputed that some of his animals were thin, but he has said he was working on getting them to gain weight. He has disputed the conditions alleged by the SPCA and has accused them of acting too quickly.

On Thursday, several of Mayer's neighbors and employees described how they helped to feed or water Mayer's collection of animals or brought hay or other feed to the farm near Route 248.

Neighbor Carol Lear said Mayer, a part-time truck driver, always talked about his animals. She said she routinely saw them eating when she drove by the property.

Tyrone Balliet of Whitehall Township, who worked part time for Mayer, said the allegations against him are wrong.

Joann Reilly of Bethlehem -- whose husband, Clifford, testified he also helped Mayer -- said Mayer was not mistreating his animals. "If I thought he was mistreating the animals, I'd be the first one to say something," she said.

Shipman said defense testimony was "extremely important" to the case. "I think today you heard the voice of reason".

Kassis said the photos of the animals, some shown with sores, and the testimony of prosecution veterinarians was key. He said defense witnesses can speak of food deliveries and caring for the animals, but he noted "the photos of these animals speak for themselves."

"How do you explain the animals being in the conditions they were?" Kassis asked after the hearing. "I think that's what the judge is ultimately going to have to decide."

Update 7/14/01:  A veterinarian testified he saw nothing unusual in a visit to Joe Mayer's Lower Nazareth Township stables 11 days after 31 animals were seized from the property by the Northampton County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Dr. Sean K. Saltsburg, who now practices in Montgomery County, said Mayer called him Feb. 2, the day the animals were seized, and asked for his help. Saltsburg admitted he was not at the stables on Hollo Road the day the animals were taken.

"It looked like your typical farm," he told defense attorney Christopher Shipman at Mayer's summary trial on 39 counts of animal cruelty. District Justice Joseph Barner of Lower Nazareth is presiding over the case.

Only eight of the 39 animals owned by Mayer were still there when Saltsburg visited to evaluate the farm, located a short distance from Route 248. The SPCA filed charges in connection with the animals that remained at the Mayer property, but said they were left there because they appeared healthy.

Saltsburg, who worked for the Quakertown Veterinary Clinic when he was called by Mayer, told Assistant District Attorney Abraham Kassis that he didn't see water tubs with dirt, feces and frozen water in them, shown in pictures taken by the SPCA the day of the seizure.

Another veterinarian, Arlen Wilbers, also of the Quakertown clinic, testified that Mayer has brought animals to the clinic several times and called on other occasions about problems with the animals. The defense produced a bottle of medicine Mayer ordered for an eye problem with his goats, postmarked the day of the seizure.

Shipman said veterinarians called by the defense were "commonsense people" that helped Mayer's case.

The summary trial before Barner started June 7. Another full day of testimony is expected when lawyers for both sides can coordinate their schedules, probably in late August. Mayer is scheduled to take the stand in that August session.

Mayer said he'll produce feed bills, veterinary bills and other documents to bolster his contention he was trying to take care of his animals. He has accused the SPCA of being too hasty in its seizure.

"It's not a crime if you are trying to attend to things," he said after Friday's session.

The SPCA has said Mayer spurned their attempt to intercede.

Shipman, in remarks to reporters, said the SPCA didn't attempt to help Mayer and didn't see what he did at the farm. "They simply took the animals," he said.

But Kathy Andrews, the SPCA animal cruelty investigator who filed the charges against Mayer, said she and a veterinarian were at the farm in October and made suggestions to Mayer for better care and feeding of the animals. She said Mayer, who lives in Bethlehem, refused to allow a follow-up visit two months later.

"We tried working with him," Andrews said. "We really did try."

Update 8/23/01:  Mayer testified he spent double his usual amount on feed for his nearly 40 animals in the two months before the Northampton County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals seized most of them early this year.

Mayer, 50, is contesting the charges in a summary trial before District Justice Joseph Barner of Lower Nazareth Township.

Mayer told reporters he was considering suing everyone involved in his prosecution.  "It'll be a massive suit," he said.

"He can take his best shot," countered Kathy Andrews, the SPCA cruelty investigator who filed the charges.

Mayer has contended the seizure of his animals was improper, but Andrews said she had the district attorney's approval for the search warrants she used.  "I was only doing my job," she said.

"It doesn't warrant a response," Assistant District Attorney Abraham Kassis said of Mayer's talk of a lawsuit.

Update 10/9/01:  "That's not one of my animals," Lower Nazareth Township farm owner Joe Mayer said repeatedly.

He was reacting as Assistant District Attorney Abraham Kassis displayed photos that were exhibits in the case in which Mayer is charged with 39 counts of cruelty to animals.

Mayer testified that some of the 31 animals shown in the photos taken by the Northampton County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals did not belong to him.

Mayer also denied his animals were dehydrated or had ringworm, as Dr. Laurinda Wessel, a veterinarian, had testified at the hearing before District Justice Joseph Barner of Lower Nazareth Township.

Mayer conceded some of the animals were thin but said this was a result of poor-quality hay, a harsher than usual winter and living outdoors in herds.

"If you keep them outside in herd condition, they drop weight," he said. "They are burning off heat just to survive."

SPCA officials have charged that many of the seized animals were emaciated, dehydrated and living in substandard conditions without adequate food and water.

Kathy Andrews, SPCA cruelty investigator, said Mayer didn't heed advice given to him last October for better feeding and care of the animals. At the time, veterinarian Edgar Balliet sent Mayer a written note recommending dentistry work and fecal exams and blood tests.

Mayer testified he didn't follow the instructions because he couldn't read Balliet's handwriting.

Mayer testified he does all his own animal dentistry and most of his own blacksmith work. He also said he administers vaccines and medications himself, frequently making his own diagnosis and calling veterinarians to mail him medications.

The SPCA said the animals didn't have fresh water and produced photographs of buckets filled with ice.

Mayer said he uses a 4-pound hammer to make a depression in the ice-filled buckets and adds water on top twice a day.  "They don't drink a lot in winter," Mayer said. "It lowers body temperature, so they won't drink. I give them enough to get by."

In closing arguments, Shipman said neighbors and employees of Mayer's had testified he feeds the animals twice a day and did his best to take care of their basic needs. He said the SPCA didn't do a proper investigation and that the pictures of the animals are suspect.

Barner will hand down his decision at 1:30 p.m. Oct. 17. If found guilty, Mayer could forfeit all 31 animals.

Afterward, Mayer said he was considering suing everyone involved in his prosecution.

"A massive civil case will be waged against the SPCA, Kathy Andrews and the state," Mayer said. "My right[s] have been totally violated. They seized $25,000 worth of property."

Mayer has filed harassment charges against Theresa Palmer, owner of Waltz Creek Farm in Ackermanville, a potential witness for the prosecution who wasn't called. Palmer said the charges stemmed from an incident on July 27 when she had a discussion with one of Mayer's employees at the Plainfield Farmer's Fair.

Update 10/18/01:  A marathon animal cruelty case ended with a split verdict when a district justice found Lower Nazareth Township stable owner Joe Mayer guilty of 24 of 39 charges but ruled Mayer would not have to forfeit 31 animals seized in February.

Mayer's lawyer, Christopher Shipman of Easton, called the ruling by Lower Nazareth District Justice Joseph Barner "very fair."

Northampton County Assistant District Attorney Abraham Kassis had no comment on the ruling. Kathy Andrews, an animal cruelty investigator with the Northampton County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said she was disappointed.  "We wanted to get a better life for the animals," she said.

Barner ordered Mayer to pay $1,200 in fines, $125 in court costs and reimburse the SPCA for the care and feeding of the 24 animals that were the subject of guilty verdicts.

The amount of money Mayer will have to pay to the SPCA was unclear but will likely be in the thousands of dollars, based on previous testimony in the summary trial before Barner.

Barner called the case "consuming and difficult" but said he found no evidence there was malicious or intentional cruelty on Mayer's part, something he said he legally had to find to have the animals forfeited to the SPCA.

"Your method of operation, you may need to give it some second thought," Barner told Mayer.

Virginia Wolfe, president of the Lehigh Valley Animal Rights Coalition, was in the audience when Barner's ruling was handed down. She later told reporters she was appalled at the outcome.

She questioned how Mayer, who purchased additional animals for his business after the others had been seized, could continue to properly care for the animals. "I saw the [SPCA] pictures," she said.

Shipman said Mayer will likely not appeal Barner's ruling. He said Mayer will address the "difficulties that gave rise to these problems" and said his client was happy to get the animals back. The return of the animals was a primary goal in the case, he said.

Mayer seemed pleased with the outcome. "No hard feelings," he said to Kassis as Kassis left Barner's building.


The Morning Call

Case #2 10/13/04:  Armed with a search warrant, officers from the Monroe County and Philadelphia humane societies spent hours examining conditions and animals at a Lower Nazareth Township stable.

More than 35 horses, goats and steers are on Mayer's property, tucked between cornfields on Hollo Road off Route 248, and some of them showed signs of neglect, said Barbara Balsama, a humane society police officer from the Monroe County Branch of the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Balsama looked at one horse and said, "You can see the ribs."  "These horses are definitely underweight," she said.

Balsama said she expected to file criminal charges in a few weeks after her investigation is completed. She said the charges could be cruelty to animals, unsanitary confinement of animals, and lack of food and water.

Humane Society officials did not remove an animal but documented the conditions.

Attempts to contact Mayer were unsuccessful.

Update 10/21/04:  Several dozen animals have been seized from a stable in Northampton County as part of what authorities say is an investigation of suspected animal cruelty.

The seizure of about 40 animals marked the second time animals have been taken from owner Joe Mayer in Lower Nazareth Township since 2001.  Although Mayer was fined, the animals were returned to him.

That shouldn't happen this time, Tara D'Lutz, a Philadelphia attorney prosecuting the case with the SPCA said, saying prosecutors want to institute ''permanent forfeiture'' of the animals. ''That's our primary goal,'' she said

Balsama declines to talk about the horses, ponies, sheep and goats seized. But in an application for a search warrant she said numerous violations of state anticruelty laws were observed at the stable in February by an SPCA officer.

During an inspection October fifth, Balsama says, she could see the outlines of bones of horses, indicating low body fat and muscle. She also said in court papers that animals were housed in wet manure and had mud above their ankles.

An officer described the living conditions for animals at Mayer's farm as "appalling and heart-wrenching" and compared the Lower Nazareth Township property to a Nazi concentration camp. "I can only describe the place as Auschwitz," Pennell Hopkins testified before District Judge Joan Marinkovits in the second day of Mayer's summary trial on 46 counts of animal cruelty. Each charge carries a fine of $50 to $750, plus court costs, and up to 90 days in jail.

Update 3/1/05:  An animal rights enforcement officer from Monroe County said she filed 46 citations against a Lower Nazareth Township stable owner because the Northampton County SPCA officer "dropped the ball."

Barbara Balsama of the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Stroudsburg testified that Northampton SPCA officer David Gilbert, a former Whitehall Township policeman, was "not doing his job."

Balsama's comments came during the first day of testimony at a summary trial in Northampton borough for stable owner Mayer, accused of violating state animal cruelty laws, mainly by keeping horses, ponies and goats in unsanitary conditions.

Balsama, who seized 73 animals from Mayer's property in October, said in district court some of the horses were standing in mud 2.5 to 3 feet deep. Gilbert has said he didn't file charges because Mayer was working to correct problems. Balsama said she didn't see signs of improvement.

"They were just in a horrible condition," Balsama said. "None of these animals were getting enough food." She said she feared some wouldn't survive the winter.

Veterinarian Shari C. Silverman of Flemington, N.J., said she has never seen muck as deep as it was on Mayer's property, on Hollo Road near Route 248. She described horses with deformed hooves, one with a ruptured eyeball and 34 animals that were underweight.

"This is gross neglect, basically," Silverman said, adding buckets were filled with "pond scum," and horses had ribs and spines protruding. "It looked like they'd been starved." She said she learned four horses since have died.

Besides seeking fines of between $50 and $750 per violation, the SPCA wants the animals taken away from Mayer.

Tara D'Lutz, a Philadelphia lawyer appointed to prosecute the case, and Mayer's attorney, Chris Spadoni of Bethlehem, argued throughout the hearing, drawing sharp retorts from District Judge Joan Marinkovits.

When Spadoni mentioned Gilbert, the SPCA officer responsible for enforcing animal cruelty in Northampton County, D'Lutz asked for a sidebar and asked that any reference to Gilbert be excluded.

"They apparently don't like what Mr. Gilbert did or didn't do," Spadoni said.

Marinkovits said it didn't matter who filed the charges. "I don't really care," she said. "I'd say it's completely irrelevant."

Spadoni said Gilbert, who resigned in 2003 from the Whitehall Police Department after revealing details about the investigation of a fatal ice-dropping onto Route 22, will be part of the defense's case.

Colonial Regional Police Chief Roy Seiple, the prosecution's first witness, said officers were called to the stable 14 times in 2004, several times by neighbors complaining that horses were in their yards. D'Lutz said the horses were looking for food.

Balsama testified that the first time she met Mayer, he threatened to sue her. Later, as she explained Mayer would receive citations carrying fines of up to $750 and possible 90-day prison sentences, he tried to make a deal.

She said Mayer asked if she could limit the fines to about $500 and allow him to keep the animals. He also complained he was having difficulty finding good help to take care of the animals.

Balsama said she told Mayer how to clean the dirty water buckets but realized he was incapable of caring for the animals when he said he'd do it in five days.

"The longer I talked to him, the more I realized the futility of keeping the animals in his custody."

Update 3/2/05:  A humane society police officer who inspected a Lower Nazareth Township stable before 73 animals were seized testified Tuesday conditions were so bad it looked like "Auschwitz."

The reference to the World War II Nazi death camp drew one of several motions for a mistrial from Chris Spadoni, the lawyer representing Mayer .

Mayer, a truck driver who owns a pony ride business, is charged with 46 animal cruelty violations.

The Auschwitz reference was just one of several heated moments during the second day of testimony in Mayer's summary trial in Northampton borough.

Another unusual exchange followed the lunch break, when the lawyers discussed a possible plea bargain.

When the case resumed, District Judge Joan Marinkovits of Northampton said she had learned Mayer's civil lawyer, John Lushis, was involved in the talks, and she was clearly upset. Marinkovits ordered Lushis to leave the defense table.

Later, after Mayer allegedly passed a note to the lawyer, Marinkovits ordered Lushis out of the courtroom. Lushis packed up and left the building, and Spadoni argued Mayer's rights had been violated.

Much of the testimony centered on conditions of the animals and Mayer's stable on Hollo Road near Route 248.

Pennell Hopkins, a SPCA humane society police officer, said she saw manure-covered horses, who were so thin their ribs and bones were visible, picking stems of hay embedded in mud.  Hopkins said there were too many animals in too small an area at the stable.

Hopkins said she had been at the stable nine months earlier, and when she returned for another inspection, she said, they had deteriorated. They looked thinner and their coats were dull, she said.

The conditions at the Mayer stable, she said, were "probably the worst case I've ever seen."

Spadoni questioned Hopkins at length on her credentials, pointing out she was an art major in college, and questioned her presence in the investigation because she is not registered in Northampton County. Barbara Balsama, the lead Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals agent from Monroe County who filed the charges, is registered in Northampton.

Lise Lund, a veterinarian from Millville who specializes in equines, said she examined 12 horses and a pot-bellied pig after they were taken from Mayer on Oct. 20.

All the horses were underweight and had swollen bellies, similar to starving children in Third World countries. They also were "profoundly" dehydrated and suffering from depression, caused by squalid living conditions, she said. The medical problems, she said, were "all due to lack of food and adequate water." The lack of food, she said, caused a wasting away of their muscles.

Lund said what happened to the animals may have been caused by either mismanagement or an attempt at behavioral control, which she said unscrupulous business people have used in the past to make animals more docile.

Lund also testified about the condition of the horses' hooves. She said portions of the hooves had "literally rotted away" because they had been left standing for extended periods in a "mush" of manure and urine.

Lund estimated the hooves on some of the animals had not been trimmed in two to five years.

Marinkovits did not grant Spadoni's request for a mistrial for the Auschwitz reference, or other attempts at a mistrial when Spadoni argued that some testimony referred to an earlier SPCA case against Mayer.

Update 4/6/05:  A Northampton district judge will decide April 18 if Mayer broke animal-cruelty laws at the Hollo Road property where SPCA officials seized his animals in October.

Testimony at Mayer's summary trial ended Monday.

District Judge Joan Marinkovits said she will rule on the 46 animal-cruelty charges filed against Mayer at 8:45 a.m. April 18.

Mayer's lawyer, Christopher Spadoni, said he did not present evidence because he believes there are serious flaws in the prosecution's case.

Tara D'Lutz, a Philadelphia lawyer who was appointed to prosecute the case, was unavailable for comment.

Spadoni said he will file written closing arguments before Marinkovits, claiming the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals violated Mayer's rights when they searched his property and seized his animals, which include horses and goats.  Spadoni said the charges filed against Mayer are inappropriate because farms are exempt from the statute.

Update 4/19/05:  Mayer was found guilty of 46 counts of animal cruelty, fined nearly $15,000 and told to forfeit ownership of all 73 animals seized from his Hollo Road property.

Mayer and his lawyer, Christopher T. Spadoni of Bethlehem, quickly left the Northampton borough courtroom of District Judge Joan Marinkovits after she announced her decision. Mayer declined to discuss the case and referred questions to Spadoni.

"We obviously disagree [with the ruling]," Spadoni said. "We're going to appeal."

About a half-dozen animal rights supporters applauded when Marinkovits said Mayer was guilty on all counts and imposed fines and court costs totaling $14,835.

Unlike the first case heard by District Judge Joseph Barner, who found Mayer guilty of 24 of 39 charges but let him keep the animals, Mayer lost ownership of his 38 horses, ponies and burros as well as other animals, ranging from cats to a llama that were seized on Oct. 20.

Marinkovits' decision followed a summary trial that stretched over three months and featured heated exchanges, including one touched off by testimony from a humane society officer who said conditions at the stable were so bad it looked like "Auschwitz," the World War II Nazi death camp.

This recent case against Mayer not only ended differently, it also started differently. The charges against Mayer, were not brought by the Northampton County SPCA, as they were in the first case.

An SPCA officer from Monroe County, Barbara Balsama, was the lead investigator who served the search warrant, oversaw seizing the animals and filed the charges.

A prosecutor from outside the county with expertise in cruelty cases, Tara D'Lutz of Philadelphia, was specially appointed to try the case.  D'Lutz said there was a simple explanation why the Northampton County SPCA did not file charges against Mayer.  "They didn't do their job," she said. "They dropped the ball, big time."

Northampton County SPCA President Diane Davison Monday declined to comment. Davison said the SPCA would issue a written response later.

Pat Judge, secretary of the Northampton County SPCA board, said the Mayer case has divided the board. She said two board members recently stepped down.  "There are differences of opinion," Judge said after listening to Marinkovits announce her decision.

D'Lutz said the animals "suffered the tortures of hell at the hands of Mayer," who she said left his animals "to waste away without water or sustenance for days at time, in piles and puddles of filth." She said the animals were starving to death when they were removed.

Spadoni, in court papers, said Mayer was operating a farm, not a stable, and the conditions were like any other "normal agriculture operation," which are exempt from cruelty to animal laws. Spadoni also argued SPCA agents trespassed on Mayer's property and conducted an illegal search, and as a result the charges should be dismissed.

Balsama said it costs the Monroe County chapter of the SPCA about $9,000 a month in medical care and food to house Mayer's animals. Marinkovits said she did not order restitution because the prosecution did not present evidence stating the expenses.

Terri Palmer, of Ackermanville, who was in court for the sentencing, said she also was involved in the first case against Mayer.  "I notified the SPCA," said Palmer, who said she reported Mayer after seeing the "horrible" conditions at his stable on Hollo Road while delivering feed in 2001.

After listening to the sentence imposed on Mayer, Palmer said, "I'm glad that the judge did the right thing -- justice for the animals."

Update 9/14/05:  Mayer, convicted of 46 counts of cruelty to animals for keeping horses, ponies and other animals in alleged squalid conditions in Lower Nazareth Township, wants all the summary charges dismissed.

Mayer is set for a summary appeal hearing in Northampton County Court in November. His attorney, Christopher Spadoni of Bethlehem, filed a legal motion asking to have the charges thrown out.

District Judge Joan Marinkovits in April found Mayer guilty after a months-long summary trial. Marinkovits imposed fines and costs of $14,835 and ordered that Mayer forfeit ownership of the 73 animals kept at his Hollo Road stable. Mayer appealed Marinkovits' ruling. A common pleas judge will hear the matter in November.

In his legal motion, Spadoni says a judge should dismiss the case because the citations Balsama filed are defective. They were filed, the motion says, under a subsection of the law that does not apply to "activities undertaken in a normal agricultural operation." Mayer, the motion says, "maintained in all respects a normal agricultural operation" at his property.

Further, the motion says, charges should be thrown out because SPCA humane society police officer, Pennell Hopkins, testified at the summary trial that she inspected Mayer's property and concluded the animals were not being properly cared for. Hopkins is not registered to do such work in Northampton County.

Spadoni in the legal motion also says the prosecution has failed to provide evidence, called discovery, and has failed to provide a bill of particulars, which is a specific outline of the charges.

Update 12/13/05:  Mayer, the Lower Nazareth Township man who appealed 46 convictions for cruelty to animals, struck a deal that led to a reduced sentence.

Mayer was set for a summary appeal hearing before Northampton County Judge Leonard Zito. Instead, Mayer's attorney, Christopher Spadoni of Bethlehem, and specially appointed prosecutor Tara D'Lutz of Philadelphia, reached an agreement.

Mayer pleaded guilty to one count of cruelty to animals, which dealt with a pony seized from his Hollo Road Stable.

The pony, D'Lutz said, died of cardiac arrest Feb. 17 while in the care of the SPCA.

In exchange for the plea, D'Lutz told Zito the SPCA was willing to dismiss the remaining 45 counts and would not seek restitution of about $200,000.  Through the deal, Mayer also will not have to pay nearly $15,000 in fines.

For his part, Mayer agreed to forfeit the surviving 66 of 73 animals the SPCA seized from his property in October 2004 and pay court costs of between $150 and $200. In addition, Mayer agreed not to file civil lawsuits against the SPCA or any of its employees, volunteers and agents. Mayer also is precluded from filing suit against any veterinarians involved in the animals' treatment.

The SPCA also agreed it would not file suit against Mayer.

Attorney Mark Sigmon of Bethlehem told Zito the agreement does not include a possible lawsuit Mayer may file against an unidentified woman, who is not affiliated with the SPCA. After the hearing, Sigmon, who also represents Mayer, said the woman made slanderous comments about Mayer.

Mayer did not speak at the hearing. Asked for comment afterward, he smiled. "No," he said, then added, "I love my attorneys."

"Frankly," Spadoni said, "We felt the agreement was in our best interest."

Monroe County SPCA officer Barbara Balsama was lead investigator in the case and oversaw the seizure of the horses, ponies, cats, burros and other animals, including a llama.

"We agreed to this deal because it was in the best interest of the animals," Balsama said after the hearing. Likewise, the SPCA was willing to absorb the roughly $200,000 it has spent to care for the animals. She said seven of the animals have died, but the others "basically have recovered well."

"We're relieved and happy we can place these animals," she said. Some of the animals continue to suffer from foot problems, and others have psychological problems.

Balsama said anyone interested in adopting any of the animals, which are being housed at locations throughout the state, should call the SPCA Stroudsburg office at 570-421-6761 or the Danville office at 570-275-0340.


The Morning Call

Case #3 12/29/08:  The animals seized in a Dec. 13 raid by Pennsylvania SPCA agents have survived and are on the road to recovery, an official with the SPCA said.

  (Photo of Mayer taken in 2007, courtesy of Express-Times)

George Bengal, director of investigation for the Pennsylvania SPCA, said none of the animals had to be euthanized; all are in shelters or foster care.

Bengal said he is trying to determine whether Mayer will face harsher punishment because he is a repeat offender. Mayer was twice convicted of cruelty to animals, in 2001 and 2005.

The law that punishes repeat offenders only appears to apply to cats and dogs, Bengal said, but some similar cases he has handled in the past have ended with the owners facing stiffer penalties.

Update 12/30/08: George Bengal, director of investigation for the Pennsylvania SPCA said the most egregious violation to the animals was the condition in which they were kept. He said the location where the animals were kept was covered with feces.  "On a scale of 1 to 10, this was between a 7 or an 8," Bengal said.

This is not the only property in Northampton County where Mayer keeps animals, Bengal said. He said the SPCA is looking into the other properties to ensure no similar conditions exist. Bengal would not disclose the locations of the other properties.

Efforts to contact Mayer were not successful. His attorney in previous cases, Christopher Spadoni, said he had not been contacted about these charges.


Lehigh Valley Live

The Express Times