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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A couple who traveled across the country taking part in bodybuilding competitions has been charged with animal abuse after three starving horses were found on their rural South Miami-Dade ranch.
Prosecutors charged Alex Paez and his wife, Magdalia Cowen, with four counts of animal abuse.
Paez plead guilty to the charges and took a plea deal that spared him jail time – instead he’s been placed on one-year probation.
The horses were reportedly found in horrific conditions.
Laurie Waggoner, a spokesperson for the South Florida SPCA, said the horses were in “12 to 18 inches of manure, over grown hooves… emaciated and scared to death of people.”
“The couple clearly knew what healthy horses look like,” Waggoner said.
The couple was photographed with a gray mare on the beach as they wore gladiator outfits to show off their bodies. Only a year later that same gray mare was allegedly found so “skinny [that] it’s skin was stretched over her bones.”
Alexander Michaels, Paez’s attorney, told CBS4 News that this case is a misdemeanor and “not a big deal.”
Michaels’ statement has drawn national criticism and threats.
“I am not apologetic for my statement. People seem to care more about horses rather than children or human beings. I think everyone is important, but this case takes a life of its own,” Michaels said. “I never in my wildest dreams thought I’m going to be here talking to you about a misdemeanor. I have 15 murder cases and human trafficking and here you are asking me about horses.”
Animal activists started a petition calling for maximum punishment for the couple.
Paez spoke publicly for the first time to CBS4 News and admitted that the horses were not cared for, but explained that the horses were not his.
“Not happy by the way it was handled because they didn’t do their job. I have a contract, I don’t own those horses. I have contract. They didn’t go after that [person] because we own the property,” he said.
This isn’t the first time Paez has been charged with animal cruelty. In 2011, a horse was taken away and he was charged but took a plea deal avoiding a conviction on his record.
The new plea puts him on probation which means he is not allowed to own animals for the next 12 months.
The South Florida SPCA said, “It is disappointed that Paez did not receive jail time and that he will be able to have contact with animals again.”
CBS4 News asked the State Attorney’s Office if it’s concerned that it may be sending a message of leniency in such cases. Spokesperson Ed Griffith issued a statement, which read:
“The sentence given to Mr. Paez is very close to the maximum allowed by Florida law for these misdemeanor offenses.”
Paez said he has no intention of owning a horse again. His wife is also facing charges. Her attorney said she will not be taking a plea and plans to fight the charges.