Joe Cardenas – Sold His Horses to Killer Buyer

For quite a few years we have been following a person running an illegal horse auction (Lincoln Horse Auction) in California, ran by Joe Cardenas.  After multiple dead horses were found on his property he was charged with Animal Cruelty, which is still in the District Attorney’s office.  You can read the blog we wrote about the case by clicking here.

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Last Wednesday, August the 12th,  Lincoln Horse Auction posted the following to their Facebook page.  To see the screenshots bigger in this blog, click on them.

For all my Lincoln Horse Auctions’ Facebook page friends and guests. A private party has bought my herd as of today. There will be no horses to sell at Escalon. So, to make it clear, so nobody makes the trip to Escalon, my herd has been bought. Please share this with as many people as you can. Joe Good night.

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On Thursday Tawnee Preisner (our founder) was told that 2 large trailers were at Cardenas’ property loading up horses.  She was asked if she could identify the trucks, and it wasn’t a problem.  At one glance she knew who they were, and told the person that they needed to call the Sheriff and District Attorney’s office immediately.

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The Sheriff came to Cardenas’ house and took a report.  Nothing could really be done as the District Attorney didn’t have a restraining order on the horses and it is extremely difficult for local law enforcement to prove horses are being shipped to slaughter out of California, which is a felony.

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Back to the truck that Tawnee identified.  Tawnee has spent years investigating the slaughter pipeline in California.  in 2014 a person named Tonya Amos posted a photo of a new truck.  She said:

New truck I’m ready to travel now.

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In the comments to the photo she said:

Yea my boss bought the sleeper and put it on…. Very happy.

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In a post about another rig called “the beast” Tonya Amos stated in the comments when asked if she was still working for Don:

Yea I still work for him I’ll never leave him lol

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In another Facebook post, Tonya Amos was tagged “getting horses ready for tonight – at El Paso, TX.”  That is right along the US – Mexican border, where thousands of horses leave the US for slaughter in Mexico.

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So who is this Don person that Tonya Amos is working for?  Back in 2006 Tawnee started tracing him down, and finally got a retired Kill Buyer / Horse Trader to get horses from a feedlot owned by Don.  Tawnee was hoping to track down where the feedlot was located.  We saved a lot of horses that were too sick or broken to ship to slaughter, they would sell them to us for $100.  Almost all of the horses that were saved from the feedlot had to be euthanized, and they were the saddest horses we have ever seen.

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In 2010 Tawnee finally able to get some photos of the horses at the feedlot.  She was hoping she could see something in the background that would identify where it was.  That led to a dead end, and when the horse trader posted the photos online, the feedlot operator said “No more horses going to rescue.”  It seemed like a hopeless dead end…

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In 2012, Tawnee was researching a news story about kill buyers in California, and a story mentioned a guy in the area that was possibly shipping horses to slaughter.  His name was Don Gates (aka Don Gatz.)  Tawnee did a background search on his name and found a list of all properties associated with his name.

Tawnee meticulously searched satellite images of the area, trying to match up photos of horses at the feedlot with the numerous address’ provided by the background search.  After hours of searching through satallite images, she felt unrestrained excitement when one of Gates’ properties matched up perfectly with the feedlot horse pictures.

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One of Horse Plus’ supporters is a pilot, and he offered to fly Jason and Tawnee over the feedlot.  Using their high resolution camera, they captured hundreds of photos of hundreds of horses on the property, all in holding pens and in pastures fattening up.

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There were a lot of semi trucks and huge trailers, along with stacks of horse feed.  It was certainly a holding facility for hundreds of horses.

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On the property was a single wide mobile home.  Inside the mobile lived none other than Tonya Amos.

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On this 2011 Facebook post, Tonya posted up a picture of her mobile home during a flood and said

That’s my house

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In a newspaper article that was covering the flood story, they interviewed Tonya and the newspaper wrote:

Tonya Amos, who lives in a trailer at the ranch, must travel to and from her home by boat, as the water already was at the level of the porch steps on Monday. She has been staying at a hotel as a result of the flooding, she said.


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After visiting the feedlot numerous times, and seeing huge groups of horses coming and then vanishing overnight, we knew we had to get some hands on investigation.  So we hired a spy.  What else can you do in a situation like this?  If you call Animal Control, they will look around and say “All the horses have food and water.”  If you call the Sheriff, you will simply find out they are good friends of Don Gates, or at least many of the deputies are we found out…

So the spy posed as a homeless man living along the river.  He noticed that they were rounding up horses and there was action at the feedlot, but then once the feedlot workers discovered there was a white guy hanging out by the river, they got the Sheriff involved.  There were a lot of Hispanic’s fishing along the river, but unfortunately he stuck out of the crowd.  The Sheriff deputy told our spy that some people had been “bothering the horse ranch” and he couldn’t be there.  The deputy packed him up and dropped him off in Patterson.  He headed back out and spent the night documenting them loading large trailers full of horses and shipping them out.  The next morning he went and sat on a picnic table in a public park next to the feedlot, and the deputy was once again called on him and he could no longer spy on the feedlot.  He didn’t even get 15 minutes of rest on the picnic table before the deputy showed up and told him he couldn’t be in a public park.  This led us to believe the local law enforcement was busy protecting Don Gates’ feedlot.

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Our spy was able to gather a lot more valuable evidence that we may be able to release in the future.

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When Jason and Tawnee went to pick up the spy, they decided to park along the public road in front of the feedlot to see what would happen.  It took Don Gates less than 10 minutes to come confront them.  You can watch the video by clicking here.   After this incident Don Gates completely deserted that feedlot and to this day it is no longer operating as a feedlot that we know of.  They knew they were caught and moved their operation, leaving Tawnee hunting for their next operating locations.

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A few days later, at the very next auction at Cowtown we attended, Tonya Amos started yelling at Shari, our lead rescuer.  She was saying that we were fund raising for rescuing horses and it was just wrong, etc etc.  She did say that she works there (at the auction) which we found quite interesting.  By this time we knew she also worked for Don Gates.   You can see that video by clicking here.

After Tonya was finished yelling and cursing Shari out, the auction owner came and told Shari to leave the property and walked her out.  You can see that video by clicking here.  (We were still able to rescue horses at the auction as we had a Plan B and had other volunteer rescuers there as well, read that blog by clicking here.)

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Tawnee became even more involved with investigating the slaughter pipeline and spent a lot of time under cover at auctions.  A CBS investigation revealed that Tonya was buying a large number of horses at the auction she works at.  You can watch that investigation news story by clicking here.  Throughout the CBS investigation Tawnee was able to locate their new feedlot operations after following them home from the auctions, despite their best efforts to evade the investigators.

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Almost every auction, Tonya Amos and Don Gates work together.  Here they are waiting to bid on horses to send to slaughter.  One thing that Tawnee discovered in her investigation is Don Gates would bring his own horses to auctions, bid them up, and purchase them for close to $700 sometimes.  No doubt the auction waives the consignment fee.  Tawnee believes this was a tactic to encourage others to bring their horses to the auction, because “horses are going for so much money, far above slaughter price!”

8-15-15-10-1On May 5th, 2013, Billy Brown, owner and auctioneer of B&B Livestock Auction and Don Gates were videoed inspecting horses together after an auction.  We believe that Don Gates and Billy Brown had a strong working relationship.  In almost every slaughter pipeline facility, one kill buyer ships fat, healthy horses to Canada and another kill buyer specializes in shipping the less desirable horses to Mexico.

We believe in this video they are deciding which horse gets sent to which slaughter destination as Don Gates specializes in sending horses into Mexico from what we can gather.  To watch the video, click here.

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Billy Brown was arrested on May 20, 2014 for shipping horses to slaughter out of California to Canada.  Billy Brown was the first person arrested in California for shipping horses to slaughter.  To see his news story, click here.

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Without a shadow of a doubt in our minds, Tonya Amos and Don Gates are working together and ship horses out of California, that ultimately end up being slaughtered.

Back to Joe Cardenas.  After 2 trailer loads were taken out, and the Sheriff came out to Cardenas’ gate, Don Gates came back for a 3rd load.  The Sheriff reported that 30 horses were moved in the first two trailer loads.  Now they were back again loading up more horses.

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One of our supporters pulled up and started taking photos.  They quickly finished loading and proceeded to pull out.

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They were followed…

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After Lincoln Horse Auction / Joe Cardenas realized that everyone knew the truth about who his “private party” was he sold his herd to, he posted:

For all my Lincoln Horse Auctions’ Facebook friends and guests. The transporter was at my ranch yesterday, Thursday 13th of 2015. The horses were hauled to Escalon Livestock Market – mares that are in foal, babies by their side, beautiful paints at Escalon to be sold tonight. Fifteen head are in Escalon.
Turlock auction SATURDAY NIGHT. Many horses will be sold: paints, babies, etc. Thank you for my transporter to get them to market. So all of you can come and see them; appreciate how beautiful they are. For those that believe in me and my horses, buy one. These horses deserve your good home. Proof of my transporter was made available by my good, kind neighbor in picture form; She knows who she is – see you at the auction, Friday night Escalon; Saturday night Turlock. Have a great day. Joe

He definitely changed his tune from his earlier posts where he stated that he sold his entire herd to a private party, he now just refers to the kill buyers as his transporters.

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In a previous post sometime back, Joe posted

kill buyers… and a lot of’em are good friends of mine.

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We sent our rescuers to the first auction, Escalon, and they were able to rescue 7 horses (of 15 that came from Joe Cardenas) with the limited funds we had available.  We had already saved 11 horses from auction this month (5 in Oregon, 6 in TN) in the last week, and our Auction Fund was completely depleted.  We are thankful that we were able to get enough money together to save 7 of these precious horses.

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Saturday night we found that sure enough, another 15 of Joe Cardenas’ horses were at the auction that Tonya Amos works at…  Thanks to your support, we were able to save 24 horses at the two auctions that Joe Cardenas’ horses were taken to.

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We spent well over $9,000 paying for these precious lives.  We desperately need donations to pay for the rescue and to take care of them until they can find homes.  Please donate a gift of life right now, click here.

catsThere are at least a trailer load (about 15) horses missing from Joe Cardenas’ herd that never showed up at the auction…  Please remember we really need your financial help!  Undercover work is long and costly, but the end results can change society and put an end to horse slaughter forever!  Donate now – click here.