A father and son accused of letting 13 horses die while starving 15 others in Whitchurch-Stouffville, Ont., have a history of fraud, theft and starving animals, a CBC Toronto investigation has found.
David Small, his wife, Victoria, and their son Jason are facing charges of nine animal-cruelty offences following an investigation in May by the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals at a rural property, some 50 kilometres northeast of Toronto.
The three are each charged with allowing an animal to be in distress, failing to provide adequate food and failing to provide care necessary for general welfare.
They are scheduled to be back in a Newmarket, Ont., court on Aug. 13.
The current case involving David and Jason Small mirrors what happened at a farm in Lambertville, N.J., around 65 kilometres north of Philadelphia, seven years ago.
"It's always going to be with me," Kate Caffrey, co-owner of the property, said in an interview with CBC Toronto.
She buried three horses that belonged to David and Jason Small. She said the animals died of neglect.
"Quite frankly it was horrific," she stated.
A man who identified himself as Richard Small reached out to Caffrey's father, Eugene, in 2011, asking to rent six horse stalls, an investigation report from the Delaware Township Police Department in New Jersey revealed.
He told Eugene Caffrey he was "well known on the internet as a horse trainer," the investigation report read, and that he was looking for space to take care of some rescue horses.
"It was something he did on the sidelines of his thoroughbred training because he just loved horses," the 76-year-old said in an interview with CBC Toronto.
Eugene Caffrey found records of a renowned American thoroughbred horse racing trainer from Maryland named Richard Small. He said there was no reason to doubt the man was who he claimed to be.
The man asked whether his son, Jason, could bring some of the rescue horses to the rural property, Eugene Caffrey recalled.
Jason brought several horses to the barn between spring and September 2011, said Kate Caffrey, 46, who manages the property and works as a horse trainer.
"At one point there was just a couple horses, but then he kept on bringing them, but you could never get ahold of him quick enough to say, 'What are you doing?' Legally we can't have 25 horses with the paddocks that are available," said Kate.
"It just progressively got worse."
The thoroughbred horses the Smalls brought were "excruciatingly way too skinny," she recalled, estimating they were hundreds of pounds underweight.
Then Richard Small disappeared.
"He basically came and was like a wildflower — meaning he cleaned, he pretended, he fed, he watered, but slowly it trickled, 'Oh I can't come up, can you do it?' Knowing that obviously I'm a horse person and going to take care of them," said Kate Caffrey, breaking into tears.
"They took advantage of people and unfortunately in some ways, I was [the horses'] best chance at survival."
CBC Toronto showed the Caffreys a photo of David Small. They confirmed he is the man who tried to rent their barn under the name Richard Small.
"At some point I actually called Pimlico Race Course and spoke to Richard Small and learned that he was not the man who was renting the space," Eugene Caffrey said.
According to the investigation report, he told police the social security number supplied by Richard Small "was apparently used by numerous others as well." Also, the phone number he gave was not in service.
"He had deceived me and it was enraging to have believed something that was so untrue," said Eugene.
During the six months the Smalls used the farmland, Kate Caffrey said in her affidavit contained in the Delaware Township police report that Jason Small took between 50 and 60 bales of hay, along with equine tack equipment and supplies, without paying for them.
According to the investigation report, the Smalls' horses were not regularly fed or watered.
The animals "looked like death," said Kate Caffrey.
"Their bones were sticking out, their ribs were sticking out. It was like they were skeletons."
Jason Small, 32, pleaded guilty to taking the hay to feed the horses, telling police he believed his father had made arrangements to pay for the supplies, the investigation report said.
He also admitted to stealing equine tack equipment.
The New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NJSPCA ) called in veterinarian Chadd Tindall to treat the horses.
A foal died 24 hours later due to an umbilical hernia, said Tindall.
"It had not been cared for, and all the horses had intestinal worms and they were malnourished. It was kind of a disaster," he told CBC Toronto.
The NJSPCA never laid any charges against the Smalls. Tindall helped find the surviving horses new homes.
But Kate Caffrey says the way David and Jason Small treated their horses went "beyond negligence."
"He's probably the worst human being I've ever met," she said of her experience with David.
When asked by CBC Toronto about the dead and starving horses in New Jersey, David Small declined to comment, saying he "doesn't have a strong recollection of anything" from that time.
Jason Small is also facing a charge of fraud under $5,000 over an event that occurred in Georgina, Ont., in early May 2017.
Court documents allege that Jason defrauded a man. The matter is still before a Newmarket court.
Meanwhile, David Small was convicted of defrauding a man between September 2007 and April 2008. He was sentenced to one year in jail in 2013 and ordered to pay $1,400 in restitution.
At the time, he owned an antique car dealership and restoration garage called Canadian Classic Collector Cars in Orillia, Ont., according to Ontario corporation records. The business, on Highway 11 near Big Chief Road, operated under a few different names — Canadian Classic Custom Concept and Custom Concept Chrome.
Jason Small told CBC Toronto that his parents' company experienced some legal trouble while in operation.
"I know they got busted for a pile of issues there," he said, but would not elaborate.
Jason Small, however, said his parents entered the horse business 15 years ago.
"It's not surprising to me that they're still doing this," Kate said of David and Jason Small.
"The horses were never taken care of."