The last straw for Santa's Land?
PUTNEY -- The state wants to take the animals away from the owners of Santa's Land, and two employees of the embattled theme park are facing charges of violating their conditions of release after an inspection found unsafe conditions among the animals living on the grounds.
Lillian Billewicz, 56, the owner of Santa's Land, and her employee, Brian Deistler, 25, were in Windham County Criminal Court Thursday. They pleaded not guilty to five violations of their conditions of release for not following a written care plan provided for the animals by Dr. Tammy McNamara of the Vermont-New Hampshire Veterinary Clinic.
Billewicz and Deistler are facing six months in prison, and a $1,000 fine for each charge.
Windham County Deputy State's Attorney Susan Cay requested that the Windham County Humane Society take possession of the animals.
The judge said he was receptive to the request, but wanted to schedule a one-hour hearing before deciding if Billewicz would have to relinquish possession and control of the animals at Santa's Land.
That hearing has not yet been scheduled.
Billewicz and Deistler were both arraigned on the charges of animal cruelty on April 29 following a March 1 visit by Windham County Sheriff Cpl. Melissa Martin.
Martin, during her visit found 18 dead animals at Santa's Land.
At the April 29 arraignment, as a condition of their release, Billewicz and Deistler were ordered to follow a care plan for the animals, which included providing clean water and adequate food, clean stalls and improvements to the living stalls.
But during a series of unannounced visits over the past few months Martin discovered a number of violations to the written plan.
According to Martin's affidavit, on July 12 the water tub for three donkeys had a green tint to it and "the water was laced with mosquito larvae, pine needles and algae."
Martin returned on July 25 at around 10 a.m. Billewicz and Deistler had not yet arrived and Martin stated in the affidavit that none of the animals had food.
When Billewicz and Deistler arrived later that day they said they had fed the animals "doubly" the day before.
Martin counted the hay bales before she left, making a note that there were 22 bales of hay in the loft.
When she returned on July 29 the water tub in the deer enclosure was dirty, and she noted that the hay in the loft had not dwindled.
Billewicz told Martin that she had 39 bales of hay delivered by Seth Holton on July 24, but when Martin contacted Holton, he said he only delivered 25 bales, and he said when he made the delivery Billewicz was completely out of hay.
Holton called Martin on July 30 and said two checks Billewicz sent to him were returned for insufficient funds.
In her affidavit Martin claims that the thinner goats were supposed to be separated during feeding, which she said did not occur.
Martin received several text messages from Deistler on Aug. 1 stating that "The same hay has been there for over a month and (Billewicz) keeps flipping it. It's junk and needs to be changed."
Martin became concerned in early August when she noticed a change in behavior among the animals.
Martin writes that in July the goats would only acknowledge her when she was petting them, but by early August the goats followed her making "goat noises," until she left.
The deer, as well, changed their behavior.
The deer, Martin said, used to stay away when she visited, but through late July and August they would flock to her as she entered their pen.
"It was evident that Billewicz had started to portion the hay again and has been for at least a few weeks," Martin wrote.
Santa's Land was also visited by U.S. Department of Agriculture Veterinary Medical Officer Steven Nussbaum on July 9.
Nussbaum found a number of violations that threatened Santa's Land's USDA license.
Nussbaum found several of the deer in poor body condition, dangerous fencing that could cause injury to the animals, poor sanitary conditions and an inadequate veterinary plan.
Nussbaum wrote that Santa's Land had 90 days to come into compliance.
Following Nussbaum's inspection, and the deteriorating conditions she found, Martin ordered the arrest of Billewicz and Deistler for violating their conditions of release.
They are scheduled back in court on Sept.16 to answer to the charges of violating their conditions for release.
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. Follow him on Twitter @HowardReformer.
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