Antrim County: Prosecutor seeks animal forfeiture in abuse case
Oct. 6—BELLAIRE — Antrim County has paid more than $15,000 caring for a menagerie of exotic animals seized in an abuse investigation and, after filing criminal charges against the owner, the prosecutor is seeking a forfeiture order from the court.
Brooklynn Beck, 28, of Central Lake, is facing six felony charges in 13th Circuit Court after law enforcement in April executed a search warrant on the Muckle Road home she was renting in Central Lake, seizing 106 animals, court records show.
Beck was previously charged in a Grand Traverse County animal cruelty incident, and arraigned in April on a single misdemeanor charge after officials said a dog died after being groomed by Beck at an unnamed Blair Township dog grooming business.
Beck was employed by the business and had worked there a few months, officials said, when she was terminated after a small-breed dog — a shih tzu between 10 and 12 years old — died after being returned to its owner.
Beck has pleaded not guilty to all charges and is free on a bond of $25,000, 10-percent cash or surety, court records show. A previous request by Beck to access veterinary records for the shih tzu was denied by 13th Circuit Court Judge Thomas Power.
In Antrim County, Beck and her fiancé, Michael Turland, owned House of Floof, a dog grooming business Sheriff Dan Bean previously said the couple had operated inside a rented warehouse in Central Lake.
The sheriff said officials in Antrim County were aware of complaints by House of Floof's customers. But, Bean said, but it was the grim discovery of exotic animals frozen alive in a chest freezer at their rented home that resulted in the original arrest warrant.
Law enforcement executed a search warrant at the property April 28, court records show, and also found live animals in unsanitary conditions, including a Clydesdale horse, baby rabbits, two Sulcata tortoises, a bearded dragon, a monitor lizard, plus cats, dogs, chickens and snakes.
"The Clydesdale was suffering from cankers in the hoof, which were maggot infested, and is still receiving veterinarian care for that condition," said Antrim County Prosecutor James Rossiter in forfeiture motion filed Sept. 28.
Beck, represented by Traverse City attorney Mattias Johnson, in a response filed Tuesday in 13th Circuit Court, denied that the animals were in poor condition. The Clydesdale needed medical care, she agreed, noting that she and her fiancé had only recently acquired the horse.
Judge Power on Thursday agreed to adjourn the forfeiture motion until next week, while Beck considers a plea offer from the prosecutor's office.
"If there's a plea, I think the motion is taken care of," Rossiter told the judge. "If there's not a plea, we'll have to go through with the motion."
A forfeiture order would allow animal control officers to re-home the animals, court records show.
The prosecutor, at a July 18 scheduling conference, offered to dismiss three felony counts of killing or torturing animals and one count of abandoning or cruelty to more than 25 animals, in exchange for a guilty plea from Beck to three counts of killing or torturing, court records show.
Rossiter did not return a call seeking comment Thursday, and Johnson said the new offer will dismiss four felony counts, in exchange for a guilty plea from his client to two counts of killing or torturing.
A guilty plea would result in a conviction, Johnson said, and a conviction would require forfeiture of the animals.
Incarceration and probation issues, as well as any financial penalty in which Beck would be required to pay back Antrim County, would be decided at sentencing, Johnson said.
"Generally, a defendant considers all of the potential consequences of accepting a plea, versus going to trial and, in this case, there are other, possible collateral consequences" of forfeiture, terms of probation and possible fines, Johnson said.
Johnson said Beck has until 9 a.m. Tuesday to decide. If she declines the offer, the case will proceed to trial where Beck, if found guilty of all charges, faces four to seven years in prison and fines of between $5,000 and $10,000, according to court records.
Kalli Williams, an Arizona reptile enthusiast, who said she has followed the case after learning two of the snakes being cared for by Antrim County Animal Control officers may be hers, has offered to help with re-homing.
Williams said she has ties to non-profit reptile rescue groups in Arizona, and offered to fly to Michigan, and rent an appropriate vehicle to transport the animals to new homes.
Williams said she previously loaned four boa constrictors to Turland for breeding, when Turland and Beck were living at a rented house in rural Kingman, Arizona.
A similar discovery of dead animals inside a chest freezer at the Kingman home that Turland and Beck were renting was confirmed by Mohave County, Arizona, officials in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.
Williams said at one time she believed all four of her snakes — named Jigsaw, Lucie, Sneck and Big Mama — were among those found deceased.
On Thursday, however, she said she now believes Sneck, who Williams described as "puppy-dog tame," and Big Mama may still be alive.