Santa's Land case continues; former owner fails to pay restitution
Editor's note: The previous version of this article, published in Friday's Reformer, contained a number of inaccuracies. This article has been corrected to reflect that Lillian Billewicz has pleaded not guilty to charges of animal neglect.
BRATTLEBORO >> The former owner of Santa's Land in Putney, who has pleaded not guilty to animal neglect in a case in which 18 animals died, does not have a plan in place to pay her restitution.
Lillian Billewicz appeared in Windham County Superior Court on Thursday and she was supposed to have a plan of how she would pay $32,839.18 to the Veteran's Home in Bennington for the care of the deer herd. But Billewicz showed up without any financial plan, wanting to further discuss who owned the animals at the time of the incident. Billewicz also asked whether she could regain custody of the animals.
"I thought we were going to continue discussion relative to the restitution," said Billewicz.
Tracy Shriver, the State's Attorney for Windham County, said Billewicz owes a private individual another $4,804.50 for the care of a handful of goats that were taken from the property.
Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark said his deputies found 16 dead deer, as well as a dead pheasant and a pot-bellied pig, when they arrived at the theme park on Route 5 in March 2014.
The Windham County Sheriff's Department conducted a search of Santa's Land after Deputy Trevor Dickerman went there a day earlier to look for animal caretaker, Brian Deistler, who had lost his license plate in a minor traffic accident. Dickerman went to Santa's Land looking for Deistler to return the plate. When Dickerman was at Santa's Land he reported back to Clark that "things did not look right," which led them to discover the dead animals.
In November 2014 and January 2015, the Windham County Superior Court held a civil forfeiture hearing of all of the animals. On March 14, the judge decided only the deer and goat herd would be forfeited. Billewicz immediately appealed the decision, but it was dismissed in January 2016, which made the civil forfeiture final. The state's attorney's office then asked the court to order Billewicz to pay the cost of care of the deer and goats and to transfer ownership.
On Thursday, Billewicz told the court that because she lost the animals and no longer owns Santa's Land that she should not be responsible for the cost of their care.
"Well, yeah, they took them away because you weren't caring for them, so they had to," Superior Court Judge Katherine Hayes responded.
Hayes added that the "end of the story" was that Billewicz was responsible for the care of the animals at the time of the incident, and any expenses that were incurred by anyone who provided care for the animals is part of the restitution.
The judge then told Billewicz about her options on how she could pay restitution, and Billewicz said she was not prepared to pay any dollar amount.
"So you have not been able to analyze your finances to make a decision?" Judge Hayes asked Billewicz.
Without any hesitation, Billewicz responded, "No."
The judge scheduled a date on April 5 to discuss Billewicz's ability to pay the restitution.
Santa's Land has not reopened since the case was resolved.
The criminal charges with regards to all the animals remain pending.
Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 275.
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