In today’s modern police state where bureaucrats spy on our every move, they aren’t the only ones watching us. Private animal rights vigilantes roam America looking for businesses to loot or destroy to fulfill their extreme ideology. I’ve written in the past about high school dropout Scotlund Haisley who gets his kicks targeting the elderly for attacks. Another high profile crook in the same mold is yuppie Rambo wanna-be Richard Couto. Renegade Couto who likes to parade around in body armor outfitted like a SWAT team member and frames businesses for charges of animal cruelty to fulfill his extremist animal rights views. If you saw this armed commando in your neighborhood, what would you think? His very appearance is designed to make you confuse him for a real law enforcement officer.
Instead, Couto runs a new non-profit charity called Animal Recovery Mission Investigations that employs former Navy SEALS and Marines conducing vigilante justice on the poor and minorities for kicks. They operate by conducting long-distance and nighttime surveillance of Americans in their homes and at their jobs. Experience or expertise in animals isn’t required. Couto’s sole claim to fame is that he is an ex-Blackwater contractor, the disgraced private army used in Iraq, that came to the spotlight when several members stood trial for murdering civilians in the country. Accused of being a “undisciplined, unaccountable bunch of mercenaries,” Blackwater no longer exists. Lucky us, instead of targeting Iraqi civilians, Couto is now going after Florida’s poor.
Instead of the private mercenary he wants you to think of him as, Couto is actually a wealthy real estate developer from an elite Rhode Island family. This urban ninja has no law enforcement powers or any right to go ‘undercover’ to target people he doesn’t like when he take the law into his own hands. A tireless self-promoter, his conversations are peppered with talk of tactical strikes and stock phrases about animal abuse. Over the top, he brags that he keeps the safety off the guns he carries so he can respond to a ‘threat’ immediately. Sounds to me like he should be committed to the nearest nut house if he believes he’s under constant threat of danger while walking the streets of Florida. If you read his media coverage, he seems to think that every farmer on this planet is boiling pigs alive. He also claims that Florida has a booming bestiality tourism industry that he’s working on exposing with his pals at CNN. Funny enough, law enforcement has never found any such thing. He boasts that he conducts operations against animal owners in 12 counties in Florida, 20 states, and foreign countries. He brags, “We go deeper, for longer, in more dangerous operations than anyone will in the world.” Bold words for a real estate developer.
According to his IRS tax returns, he proudly announces, “The Animal Recovery Mission (ARM) was created to combat: illegal horse slaughter & slaughter farms, the horse meat black market trade, animal sacrifice farms and animal cruelty protect American wild mustangs.” Whew! He threw everything but the kitchen sink in there. In 2013, his third year in business, he raked in a total of $286,383 in revenue. Not bad for a private vigilante. He claims he made a direct salary of no more than $23,500 but where did all the rest of the money go? Reading his tax returns shows exactly where it went no matter how he tries to dress it up. In his IRS filings, he claims an additional $40,000 in management expenses, and another $23,100 in management “program” expenses. What management expenses does a private vigilante have? He also claims a deduction of $8,000 in accounting fees but declares that he self-prepared these tax returns. That eight grand must be another “fee” that went into his pocket. He wrote off another $29,558 in occupancy costs and $18,733 in travel expenses. But don’t worry, he ended the year with $10,625 in cash in a non-interest bearing account, with $49,867 in assets left. All total in the three years he has been in business, he has taken in over half a million in revenue. Who knew that being a private Rambo was so lucrative. Don’t forget, he’s already independently wealthy. ARM is just his little slush fund on the side.
Couto’s latest target for his misplaced justice is Jorge Garcia. Couto went undercover on three of Garcia’s farms for five months and filmed him legally slaughtering goats. He then claimed to the media that farm workers were getting their jollies off of boiling pigs alive, skinning animals alive and drowning them in blood. Not stopping there, his investigators also claimed the animals were being used in black magic and Garcia ran a puppy mill. If that didn’t jerk the public’s emotions, then they claimed they found evidence of cock fighting as well. Literally if there was a crime that could be committed against an animal, these vigilantes made it against Garcia and his employees.
When Couto went public with his evidence against Garcia he had the usual fanatic claims about what he found there but in an interesting twist to jerk the emotions of the public he claims Garcia was illegally slaughtering horses. A claim that activists had been trying to make against Garcia for some time but every inspection by actual authorities has cleared him. After an investigation into Couto’s undercover video, the Palm Beach County prosecutor and Animal Care and Control officers found no evidence of slaughtered horses.
“There’s absolutely not a single video, not any single piece of evidence, that horse slaughter occurred on any of these three farms.” Prosecutor Judy Arco went on to say, “there was no evidence that pigs had been boiled alive or that any other animals had been abused.”
In Part 2 of this continuing series, Couto’s case against Garcia falls to pieces while the Florida taxpayer picks up the tab.
Katharine Dokken is a Public Affairs Specialist at The Cavalry Group and the author of two new books, including The Art of Terror: Inside the Animal Rights Movement, available on Amazon.