Three new felony charges have been brought against Slick Gardner, ranch owner and recent candidate for 3rd District Supervisor, adding to the nine animal cruelty and financial crime charges filed in the last year.
Deputy District Attorney Mag Nicola said the new charges are: grand theft of 246 horses that Gardner acquired from Mary and Carrie Dann of the Western Shoshone Indians of Nevada; $12,000 of bad checks written in connection with that acquisition; and $12,000 of bad checks written to Pacific Gas and Electric. Nicola said the grand theft charge stems from Gardner allegedly having never paid for the 246 horses he acquired from the Dann sisters.
Gardner said the sisters never gave him all the horses he bought from them.
“[The Dann sisters] didn’t give me 40 head of horses that I paid for, but God bless ’em, those ladies are doing everything they can to keep their names in the papers,” Gardner said.
Gardner said he has been collecting horses over the last five years and he is not guilty of the alleged grand theft or the bounced checks.
The current 12 felony charges against Gardner consist of four counts of animal neglect and eight counts of fraud, Nicola said. Though the animal cruelty portion of the case has drawn more attention, Nicola said the charges are primarily business-related.
“It’s more of a financial case than an animal cruelty case,” Nicola said. “We were working on two investigations into the financial crimes and the horse crimes, and by the time they came together it was one big case. It’s about his mistreatment of horses and the business community.”
Gardner owns a ranch in the hills above Buellton in northern Santa Barbara County, where he keeps a large herd of wild horses. Last fall the Humane Society and Santa Barbara County Animal Control led a 150-day investigation. Police confiscated 167 horses in two searches.
Nicola said Gardner’s attorney has already requested five times for the date of the preliminary hearing to be pushed back. Gardner, who maintains his innocence, said he thinks the charges should be kept separate.
“They’re just adding on to my trial hoping something’ll stick,” Gardner said. “If you murder someone today and rob a bank tomorrow they don’t try you at the same deal. It just doesn’t make sense to combine the two.”
The allegations of animal cruelty began in spring 2003 when neighbors reported that some of Gardner’s horses looked sick. Gardner said his policy has been to let the horses remain wild, providing hay, salt and water for them on his fenced property. He said although 12 have died in two years, they are generally in good health.
“Take a look at all my horses,” Gardner said. “It doesn’t take a horse person to know that they lead good lives here.”
A hearing to determine whether the new charges warrant a preliminary hearing is set for April 21.