Prosecutors: Southern California horse dealer deceived customers by painting, drugging horses

A Southern California horse dealer has reached a plea deal after being accused of selling animals that were sick, drugged and sometimes painted a different color, federal prosecutors said Friday.

Trina Lee Kenney, of Wrightwood, agreed to plead guilty to one felony count of mail fraud, said assistant U.S. attorney Joseph Akrotirianakis. Prosecutors allege Kenney tricked one customer by drugging a horse to make it appear calm and painted at least two others to match the color she advertised. She also was accused of accepting money for horses that customers never received and may not have ever existed.

Sixty-one known victims were found in 23 states — from Washington state to West Virginia — and in Canada, Akrotirianakis said.

Kenney sold horses online. She used a variety of websites to place her ads and used at least 14 aliases, the plea agreement said. The 32-year-old kept changing her name and websites to avoid getting caught.

An FBI agent and a U.S. postal inspector set up a sting operation, paying $5,000 for a Friesian mare named "Azure" that did not exist. Kenney took the money but did not deliver a horse and refused to respond to them.

"She did do some wrong things and exercise some bad judgment," said Kenney's attorney, Joseph Shemaria of Los Angeles. "That's the reason she got into trouble, the reason the U.S. attorney's office picked up on it and the reason we decided not to go to trial."

However, he defended her as "a dyed-in-the-wool animal lover" who would go to great lengths to rescue horses and a mother who taught her three children to love the animals.

Shemaria said Kenney sold between 500 and 600 horses during a five-year period and the plea agreement does not mention the hundreds of happy customers.

Instead, it describes victims who received wild, unbroken, unridable horses that had been advertised as tame; lame and sick horses that had been advertised as healthy; horses that weighed much less and were much older than advertised; and two brown horses that had been painted black.

Several other customers complained that her "money-back guarantee" was bogus, the agreement said.

A California customer told investigators she returned a horse but Kenney refused to refund the purchase price. The agreement, filed in U.S. District Court on Thursday, said the horse's remains were later found in the snow on Kenney's property.

In the agreement, Kenney admitted that she lied about some horses being safe for children and beginning riders, and that she delivered starved horses that were covered in sores and cuts, had strangles, or had hooves that had been untrimmed for so long the horses couldn't walk.

The mail fraud count was the most serious crime prosecutors could have pursued, Akrotirianakis said. It carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.

Shemaria said he believes his client will be sentenced to 41 months to 51 months in prison and be ordered to pay a fine.

Kenney is scheduled to appear in court Sept. 7. She remained free without bail.