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Santeria priest fined for neglect
By Kate Williamson
Staff Writer
Published: Tuesday, July 12, 2005 9:18 PM PDT

SAN MATEO ” The Peninsula Humane Society received $5,520 in legal restitution from a self-proclaimed Santeria high priest for animal cruelty violations, the largest restitution ever received by the organization.

The court-ordered payment to PHS covers the costs of investigating and caring for the nearly 200 severely neglected chickens, ducks, goats, pot-bellied pig and other animals seized from South San Francisco resident Gilbert Stephenson on May 4, 2004. In addition to the fine, Stephenson will serve 30 days in county jail beginning Aug. 6.

He pleaded guilty to an animal cruelty charge last week in San Mateo County Superior Court for the filthy conditions in which he and his wife housed the livestock at their Grand Street home. He also may not own animals aside from three existing pets or work in an animal-care business, and he must submit to home searches without a warrant.

“We believe that the penalty is fair,” PHS President Ken White said. “Now, with our increasing focus on animal cruelty and with a District Attorney’s Office that is very serious about animal welfare case[s], San Mateo County is also about the least safe place for animal abusers.”

Stephenson, 66, told PHS officers that he was a Santeria high priest as they were investigating the feces, urine and algae-filled livestock quarters. Animal sacrifice as part of the religion is not a crime, but neglect of the animals is, a PHS officer said.

The dirty quarters were also too cramped for the animals and contained no clean water, PHS officials said. The restitution helped pay for the above-normal, all-day deployment of around five PHS staffers, spokesman Scott Delucchi said.

Eight of 11 seized goats found new homes, along with five rabbits, 20 guinea fowl, five ducks, one pig and 151 chickens. Seventeen animals were euthanized for health reasons.