MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – A 70-year-old man is facing prison time if he is convicted of illegally selling horse meat, the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office announced on Friday.
An undercover investigation conducted by the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office, Miami-Dade police and the U.S. Department of Agriculture led to the arrest of Manuel Coto-Martinez this week.
He is charged with unlawful sale of horse meat and unlawful use of a two-way communication device.
"The collaboration between my office, MDPD and the USDA has been essential in the first successful infiltration at this level, into the extremely close-knit and secretive world of an illegal horse meat operation in Miami-Dade County," State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said in a statement. "This unregulated slaughter of horses and uninspected meat presents a real safety and food security issue that puts lives in jeopardy and our agricultural community at risk."
Authorities said a confidential informant told them about the illegal business and directed authorities to two locations in Miami-Dade County where the meat was being sold, including at Coto-Martinez's home in the 13200 block of Northwest 182nd Street.
Prosecutors said an undercover detective bought 20 pounds of horse meat from Coto-Martinez on Nov. 10 for $140.
According to an arrest warrant, Coto-Martinez also sold meat to the detective on Sept. 8, and his wife sold horse meat to the detective on Oct. 13 because her husband was not home.
Authorities said the detective told Coto-Martinez that the meat was for an anemic child, because it is common belief by many horse meat buyers that it can cure or aid in treating anemia and other conditions.
The USDA tested the meat purchased by the detective and it tested positive for horse meat, prosecutors said.
Local 10 News reporter Hatzel Vela was outside Coto-Martinez's home Friday when Cecilia Frau showed up to pick up the horse that she boards at the five-acre property.
"Never, never would I have thought that he was selling horse meat. I mean, that's horrible," she said.
According to the USDA, there is no facility in the U.S. that is currently licensed to slaughter horses for consumption.
Coto-Martinez faces up to five years in prison on each felony count if he is convicted.