A former Montana horse rescue operator pleaded no-contest to 15 felony counts of animal cruelty. Thomas Jessberger, of Townsend, faces up to 20-years in prison.
Included in the plea deal, was the red roan mare named Chili who was found buried on the purported rescue’s property. Lab tests confirmed the mare, owned by a boarding client, had a bone marrow fat content of .2%. The average fat content of bone marrow in horses is 81.7%. According to a necropsy, Chili died of starvation.
The prosecutor dropped 19 counts of animal cruelty and a charge of bail jumping against Jessberger as a part of the deal.
Jessberger and co-defendant, Darlene Rindal, operated Rocky Acres Horse Rescue. The pair also ran a horse boarding and training business out of the same property. Both were charged with 34 felony counts of animal cruelty. Rindal’s case is reportedly heading to trial.
In March 2014, authorities seized 29 horses and five goats from the horse rescue due to their emaciated state. Two were euthanized. Broadwater County spent more than $100,000 to rehabilitate the animals.
Jessberger, a German citizen and criminal in multiple states, fled Montana while on probation last October. He was captured on a $100,000 warrant in Ocala, Florida five months later.
Before he fled, Jessberger was convicted in an unrelated felony theft case and received a suspended sentence. After he was returned to Montana, his suspended sentence was revoked by the court and he was given a five-year sentence. Jessberger is currently behind bars.
Jessberger’s sentencing has not been scheduled.