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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.
ReligionNewsBlog.com Item 5073 Posted: 2003-11-18 05:41:51
NEWARK, N.J. — A 67-year-old woman has been charged with making terroristic threats against a Santeria priest who performed a highly publicized animal sacrifice in Passaic last month, after she vowed to make a “human sacrifice” of the priest himself, police said.

Violet Skenderian was arrested at her home in Clifton on Nov. 13 after she telephoned and sent a threatening letter to the priest, said Detective Andrew White, a spokesman for the Passaic Police Department.

In addition to threatening the Santeria priest, or santero, Felix Mota, the letter also threatened Passaic Mayor Sammy Rivera and Mota’s lawyer, Jesus Pena.

“It’s time to make human sacrifices to make your ancestors even more happy,” read the letter, which was mailed to Mota’s religious store in Passaic on Nov. 10. “YOU MOTA _ all your family members, your lawyer, Jesus Pena, Passaic Mayor Sammy Rivera are all going to be sacrificed.”

The letter also said: “Santeria is an evil, pagan, ancient bloodthirsty cult which enjoys killing animals.”

Skenderian, who was released without bail following her arrest on Thursday, has a nonpublished telephone number. White did not know whether she had a lawyer.

On Oct. 10, with television cameras rolling and Passaic police keeping order outside, Mota cut the heads off two live roosters at an altar behind his shop. Mota cited a 1993 U.S. Supreme Court decision in a Florida case, which held that animal sacrifice was a form of religious worship protected by the Constitution.

The mayor said he did not believe Skenderian meant to carry out her threat to kill him and others, and he even sympathized with her opposition to animal sacrifice.

“She looks like a nice old lady,” Rivera said, adding that Skenderian owns several cats.

“I disagree strongly about Mr. Mota’s way of worshipping, but it’s his right,” Rivera said. “I cannot have everybody come around and threaten me about things I can’t control.”

But Mota and his lawyer said they do take the threat seriously.

Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, who read a copy of the letter, said it was neither a joke nor something to be taken seriously.

“I am sorry for Mrs. Skenderian for being arrested for blowing her stack,” Newkirk said, insisting that Mota was the truly violent one. “His were violent deeds, hers were violent words, and I think the shoe should be on the other foot.”