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July 10, 2014 7:44 am

Woman charged with defrauding horse supporters

Written by CJ Baker

It seemed like a great cause to support.

In 2007, horse advocates gave a rural Park County woman about $3,500 to save a group of equines from slaughter and fix the eyesight of a rescued animal.

But prosecutors say that’s not what Catherine M. Petersen did with the money, using deceit to solicit the donations.

The 54-year-old Petersen made her first appearance in Park County’s Circuit Court Wednesday morning and was formally charged with two felony counts of obtaining more than $1,000 worth of property by false pretenses and a felony count of forgery.

Most of the delay between the alleged scheme and this week’s court appearance was due to Petersen’s imprisonment in Kentucky on unrelated charges.

Petersen had sought donations from an online community of horse advocates known as the “Fans of Barbaro” in mid-2007, charging documents say. The members of the community frequently give money to help purchase horses at livestock auctions, intending to stop them from being bought by a slaughterhouse.

An affidavit from former Park County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Trapp Heydenberk, filed in support of the case against Petersen, says she asked the Fans of Barbaro to help her buy about 30 horses at an April 27, 2007, livestock auction. Petersen operated a non-profit organization called Fair Dinkum Farm and Equine Rescue and reportedly said in an online posting that she would care for the horses at her facility in the Cody area.

Heydenberk said Petersen ultimately collected $1,335.72, but the investigator later learned that neither Petersen nor her Fair Dinkum Farm and Equine Rescue had ever purchased horses from the Billings Livestock Auction. Further, Heydenberk’s affidavit suggests Petersen may not have had a facility to care for animals, as she lived on a small one-acre property off U.S. Highway 14-A between Powell and Cody.

Heydenberk wrote that in July 2007, Petersen again asked the Fans of Barbaro for donations, this time to help fix the eyesight of a horse named Snickers who previously was saved from slaughter.

In support of the request, Petersen reportedly posted a letter that she said had been written by a veterinarian at Colorado State University who had evaluated Snickers. The online community of horse supporters donated another $2,015.55  to help with the surgery and Petersen later told the group it had been a success, Heydenberk wrote.

However, when a Michigan woman later adopted Snickers from Petersen, she learned the horse never had eye surgery, Heydenberk wrote. Further, the woman noticed that the Colorado State veterinarian’s name was misspelled in the letter he reportedly wrote. The Michigan woman’s call to the sheriff’s office began the investigation.

Heydenberk contacted the former CSU veterinarian in 2009 and confirmed the man never wrote the letter or evaluated Snickers. The forgery charge relates to the allegedly bogus letter. The total she is charged with taking is $3,351.27.

The Park County Attorney’s Office filed the case in June 2009, but by that time, Petersen had left the area for Kentucky. There, Petersen began working for — and scamming — a Radcliff, Ky., law firm.

In July 2009, Petersen was arrested after Radcliff police found she’d used the law firm’s charge accounts to buy a computer, software, horse saddles and a camera for herself in the preceding months, the Elizabethtown, Ky., News-Enterprise reported.

Petersen ultimately received three felony convictions for the thefts and served nearly five years in prison, court records show. Kentucky corrections officials paroled Petersen this week, and she was immediately brought back to Park County to face the new charges.

Circuit Court Judge Bruce Waters set her bond at $20,000 cash. That was the amount requested by Deputy Park County Attorney Sam Krone, who cited an “extensive criminal history” for Petersen that includes past felony and misdemeanor convictions relating to fraud.

Petersen, who listed her address as the Western Kentucky Corrections Complex, didn’t object to the amount.

“I’m not requesting any bond,” she told the judge. “I don’t have the means or a place to stay if I were released.”

Petersen will be represented by a court-appointed defense attorney. A preliminary hearing is set for July 18.

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