Around these parts, everybody's pretty well acquainted with the tactics of undercover animal activist Richard "Kudo" Couto. The winner of this week's Best of Miami award for "Best Citizen", Couto goes to unlicensed slaughterhouses, secretly films brutal animal killings, and-- here in Miami-Dade County, at least -- gets press attention and results. His footage resulted in the dismantling of the C-9 Basin, an entire district of illegal slaughter, and in several felony charges against animal abusers.
After receiving a tip from a Tampa-area resident, Couto adopted the identity of Martin Silva, handyman, and infiltrated the illegal slaughterhouse community of that city. But the resulting footage-- while pretty stunning to us-- hasn't exactly bowled over cops there.
Couto, along with a USDA investigator, bought horsemeat -- an outlawed commodity -- from a Citrus Park black marketeer. He also filmed unlicensed butchers bleeding out a pig and a goat in brutal and clearly unregulated fashion.
But the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office has taken to Tampa news outlets to diminish Couto's claims. Spokesperson Larry McKinnon told Fox-13:
We certainly don't see the epidemic of selling meat for human consumption that he has asserted. We've been out on numerous occasions with him and never have been able to successfully buy horsemeat that he's made the assertion they're selling.
The problem with that, Couto says, is that he's never been on a sting with anybody from the Hillsborough Sheriff's office.
Couto says he's been told that there will be no animal cruelty charges resulting from his footage, because of the undercover manner in which it was obtained. In an email shared with Riptide, Hillsborough Sheriff's detective Larry Lingo warns Couto: "When you buy the meat it has to be under law enforcement supervision or you commit the same crime as the person selling it."
Neither McKinnon or Lingo responded to Riptide's requests for comment.
But in Couto's mind, the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office is lashing out because his own investigation caught them flat-footed. "The problem is these are good ol' boys," says Couto, "and they do not want somebody coming into their county and showing what they've been neglecting for the last 40 years. I'm certainly not going to allow a police department to discredit me with lies."
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You can judge for yourself whether Couto's findings should result in arrests. Here's a video he put together showing slaughter by unlicensed butchers in the Tampa area. A warning: cops there might not be impressed, but we found it extraordinarily graphic.