Two men who ran a Lake Elsinore animal breeding facility where reptiles and rodents were kept in appalling conditions and often starved to death are slated to be sentenced in the coming weeks after pleading guilty to misdemeanor and felony charges.
Mitchell Steven Behm, 55, of Coto de Caza, and David Delgado, 29, of Rialto, were arrested last July in connection with acts of cruelty against thousands of animals caged at Global Captive Breeders on Third Street.
During a hearing Thursday at the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta, the Riverside County District Attorney's Office and the defendants' attorneys announced a plea agreement under which Behm admitted a dozen misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty, while Delgado admitted a dozen felony counts of animal cruelty.
Each man was originally charged with 117 felonies.
Superior Court Judge Judith Clark ordered the Department of Probation to prepare a pre-sentencing report on Delgado, who is due back in court on May 22. The defendant, who is free on $50,000 bail, could face up to five years behind bars.
Behm is scheduled to be sentenced on April 15. He's expected to receive five years probation and will be ordered to pay $158,195 in restitution, which will be divided between People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the city of Lake Elsinore. Behm also is free on $50,000 bail.
The defendant was the owner of Global Captive Breeders, where Delgado worked as the full-time manager.
Wildomar-based Animal Friends of the Valleys, a nonprofit that provides animal control services for contracting cities throughout southwest Riverside County, initiated an investigation of the business after receiving information that rodents, exotic snakes and other creatures were being abused.
The rodents were raised for reptile food.
An undercover PETA investigator got a job working at the site and kept a record of what transpired over a two-month span, according to the District Attorney's office.
Delgado was witnessed "causing traumatic injury or death to numerous rodents," said D.A.'s office spokesman John Hall.
He alleged Behm was fully aware of what was happening.
"What went on at Global Captive Breeders -- where employees bludgeoned rats and left reptiles to starve to death slowly -- shows the shocking extent of cruelty in the reptile and 'small-pet' trade," said Daphna Nachminovitch, PETA senior vice president of cruelty investigations.
The city of Lake Elsinore ordered the business shuttered in December 2012 after Animal Friends of the Valleys conducted a search and seizure at the site. According to AFV officials, around 15,000 rodents and 500 reptiles were found dead or had to be euthanized.
“The animals were too sick, too toxic, too critical to move,” said Willa Bagwell, executive director of Animal Friends of the Valleys, in July 2013.
Bagwell, who had been involved in the investigation since it began, described the scene and smell at the 3rd Street facility as “horrific.”
– City News Service contributed to this report.