The 73-year-old owner of Ontario Livestock Sales and 7 employees must appear in a California court July 20 to face a total of 21 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty stemming from an undercover investigation by an animal protection group.

If convicted, Horacio Santorsola and his employees would each face up to one year in jail and $1,000 in fines.

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Mercy for Animals of Los Angeles produced hidden camera video footage that showed auction barn workers kicking and stomping animals, most often to get them to move.

Another Ontario Livestock employee working with Mercy for Animals was behind the camera.

Dr. Temple Grandin, a Colorado State University-based expert on animal welfare, viewed the undercover video and said the rough treatment and frequent kicking was not acceptable. She said if the auction were a federally inspected meat packing plant, its inspection would be suspended and the operation would be shut down.

Livestock under stress are more likely to suffer from disease and infections, making them more of a food safety risk.

Mercy for Animals turned the evidence over to local law enforcement for investigation under California’s anti-cruelty laws. The San Bernardino District Attorney brought the charges.

Ontario Livestock Sales is a family-owned auction business that’s been operating at the same location since 1936.   Auctions are conducted every Tuesday with sales of horses, cattle, goats, sheep, hogs and exotic animals.  Weekly sales run from 1,000 to 1,300 head.

The business has been under the same management since 1994.  The sales yard earns its money through yardage fees and commission charges.  Santorsola says animals arriving for the auction do not come with a leash, and his staff has to get them under control when they run away.

He called the charges, “a bunch of crap.”

Mercy for Animals disagrees.

“The case graphically illustrates the cruel, inhumane and illegal abuses that farmed animals are all too often subjected to in California,” said Mercy’s Nathan Runkle. “In a civilized society, it is our moral obligation to protect all animals, including animals raised and killed for food, from needless suffering. ”

Runkle hopes other livestock auctions get the message that animal abuse will not be tolerated.

Mercy for Animals has over 75,000 members nationwide. The animal protection group has frequently orchestrated undercover video taping of cruelty incidents involving farm animals.

The organization was among those who prompted Iowa and Utah this year to enact laws making it more difficult to take such undercover footage on private property. A third state, Missouri passed a law requiring that videotaped evidence of animal cruelty be shared with law enforcement within 24 hours.