Mr. Barreira, 50, a Dartmouth resident (formerly of Westport) before being sent to federal prison for tax evasion in November, 2012, was found not guilty on Tuesday, Nov. 5, of animal cruelty in the death of a horse in an icy Westport swamp. Fall River District Court Judge Kevin Finnerty ruled that the state had not proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
Assistant District Attorney Patrick Driscoll said there was evidence that the animal died in considerable pain. Witnesses believed the animal was suffering from colic (although a necropsy did not confirm that) which can cause severe abdominal pain when it escaped from its paddock. Westport police who found the animal dead on Feb. 19, 2011, said there were indentations in the snow where the horse appeared to have been writhing before its death.
The animal’s death could have been prevented, the prosecutor said, had Mr. Barreira taken action after Westport Animal Control Officer Donna Lambert urged the horse’s caretaker the night before to call a veterinarian. Doing nothing to help a sick or injured animal amounts to cruelty, Mr. Driscoll argued.
The horse, named Momma, lived at Driftway Farm located at 566 American Legion Highway. Mr. Barreira owns the farm, along with 16 other properties in Westport, according to Westport Detective Jeff Majewski who was the town’s lead investigator.He said that what appeared to be a strong prosecution case for animal cruelty fell apart when the lead witness refused to testify. That woman, he said, had watched the animal’s suffering for hours and gave it medication to assist with the pain. But in part because she had brought the medication there without authorization she invoked her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.
“She was a key witness” who saw that horse suffering for a long time without anyone providing help. The loss of her testimony was a blow to the case, Det. Majewski said.
During the two-day trial, prosecution witnesses also included state veterinarian Lorraine O’Connor, Ms. Lambert, and a lieutenant from the Boston Animal Rescue League.
The Animal Rescue League paid for a necropsy report conducted by the Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine. That analysis could not determine the cause of death, Det. Majewski said.
In what he called “a twist that caught us by surprise,” defense attorney Brian Fahy put Westport Board of Health agent Jim Walsh on the stand. Testifying for the defense, Mr. Walsh said he had done “barn book” checks of the farm and that Mr. Barreira ran a clean farm and his animals were in good health. But Det. Majewski said that Mr. Walsh also acknowledged on the stand that he is a 30-year friend of Mr. Barreira’s.
“He never saw that particular horse, Det. Majewski said, and he never notified the town that he would be testifying for the defense.
Attorney Fahy called the state’s case “very weak” and argued that associates of his client had called for a veterinarian but that one never showed up. Had he euthanized the horse Mr. Barreira would have faced charges for that so was in an impossible situation, the attorney said. Mr. Fahy also said that there was no evidence that the horse had been mistreated or was malnourished — on the contrary the horse had been in good health.
A witness also testified that Mr. Barreira was known to take in abandoned and mistreated farm animals.
But Det. Majewski said that even if a call was made for a veterinarian (he questions whether that happened), insufficient effort was made to help the horse.
“If a veterinarian doesn’t show up you call another one, a third one. Someone should have stayed with that horse and monitored it … That horse’s death could have been avoided.”
The detective also said that he believes prosecutor Driscoll did “an excellent job” given the circumstances he had to work with.
Detective Majewski said that, while Mr. Barreira was found not guilty, the case is yet another that demonstrates the need for Westport to pay much closer attention to the plight of animals on the town’s many farms.
“We have a lot of experience with some of these farms, especially tenant farms, and it is clear that they need to be monitored more closely.
“The Board of Health is supposed to be monitoring these farms through barn book inspections,” he said, adding that repeated cases of neglect and abuse indicate that that is not happening as it should.
“Regretfully, a lot of these (farms) are not clean” and these animals not well cared for. “Regular and thorough barn book inspections would go a long way toward resolving” what he called a “big problem in Westport.”
Mr. Barreira is mid-way through a two-year sentence for conspiracy to defraud the Unites States, tax evasion and failure to file taxes. He avoided a trial by pleading guilty to the counts.
Had they proceeded to trial, prosecutors said they were prepared to show that Mr. Barreira used various schemes to hide rental income and avoid taxes due on his considerable properties that included two Dunkin Donuts franchises. These involved the extensive use of cash, third party checks, use of a girlfriend’s name, and an entity (Norwest Holdings Inc.) to conceal income and assets from the IRS, prosecutors said.
“He did not file tax returns for more than 12 years, from 1997 until he was aware of the criminal investigation,” said the US Attorney’s Office at the time.
Federal prosecutors also alleged in court documents that Mr. Barreira is a violent leader of a criminal organization affiliated with members of the Sidewinders motorcycle gangs in New Bedford and Fall River and Hells Angels in Providence.
His lawyer at that time, Barry P. Wilson, called it a “cheap shot” for prosecutors to include that information in their filing, saying it was based on hearsay.