The feds are pros at grabbing high-end criminals’ Miami waterfront mansions, flashy Ferrari sports cars and glittering Cartier jewelry.
But what are they going to do with prized show-jumping horses worth millions?
Federal authorities just seized 17 of them from the sprawling Palm Beach County farm once owned by former Venezuelan national treasurer Alejandro Andrade in Wellington’s super-rich horse country. In a guilty plea, Andrade has admitted accepting $1 billion in bribes and laundering some of the dirty money to South Florida. He faces a federal prison sentence on Tuesday.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
In the rarefied universe of show jumping, equestrian minds seem more interested in knowing the whereabouts and condition of Andrade’s European-bred sport horses that were once ridden competitively by his Olympic-caliber son, Emanuel.
“We’re trying to figure out if the horses were ‘seized’ but kept on their farm property and are just being cared for by federal agents on the property — or if they’ve actually been removed and taken somewhere,” said Chronicle of the Horse writer Ann Glavan in an email to the Miami Herald.
Andrade’s imported horses, which range in value from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars, are definitely not on his six-acre spread on Sunnyland Lane in the gated Palm Beach Point development. The horses, which go by the names Bonjovi, Tinker Bell, Hardrock Z and other such monikers, were confiscated a week ago by agents with Homeland Security Investigations in a forfeiture action against Venezuela’s former treasurer under the late President Hugo Chávez.
Until the horses are sold at auction, the feds are holding them at Sunshine Meadows Equestrian Village in west Delray Beach, a training facility for race and performance horses near Wellington, according to two sources familiar with the arrangement.
But the staff at Sunshine Meadows won’t confirm that’s where Andrade’s sport horses are being kept until auction.
“I’m not familiar with any of that. .... I’m 99.9 percent positive they’re not here,” said Sunshine Meadows’ staffer Brandon Mills. “I have horse-training facilities, and I lease out space to trainers. We don’t have any room right now [for show horses]. It’s the start of race season.”
Wherever Andrade’s horses are being kept, the federal judge in his money-laundering case ordered authorities to maintain them, ensure their welfare and maximize their value before sale.
“We want them to be well taken care of,” said a federal official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about Andrade’s horses. “They’re very valuable.”
A veterinarian whose Palm Beach County clinic has treated Andrade’s show-jumping horses for years said that federal authorities must ensure they’re in good equestrian hands.
“Everybody is concerned,” said Dr. Scott Swerdlin, who heads Palm Beach Equine Clinic in Wellington.
He said Andrade’s sport horses must get proper feeding, exercise and training every day to maintain their highly competitive edge. He said that a show-jumping ring and ground materials are critical, along with sufficient trainers to look after the horses. He suggested that the feds might have been wiser to keep Andrade’s horses at his former Wellington farm under the care of longtime trainers.
“These horses require attention at a very high level,” said Swerdlin, who has operated his clinic in Wellington for 35 years. “If they want to get the highest value for them, they need to have these horses in a place where they can be ridden and jumped.”
Miami attorney Joseph DeMaria, a former federal prosecutor who represents Dr. Swerdlin and his clinic, said Andrade’s horses are not just another asset like a luxury car to be sold at auction or on the courthouse steps.
“Unless you take care of them,” DeMaria said, “they are going to lose their value.”
No date has been set for the feds’ auction sale.