The Newsplex has been working on this story in conjunction with Nelson County Life, click here for their coverage.
November 22, 2011
Dozens of state and federal law enforcement agents raided an isolated home on Rooster Ridge Road near Wintergreen Resort Monday morning. What began as an investigation into an illegal moonshine operation turned into an inquiry into animal abuse.
The property in the small Nelson County community of Beech Grove belongs to 71-year-old Tracy Davis and his wife, Joyce.
Tracy Davis is being held without bond at the Albemarle County Regional Jail. He is facing 15 felony counts of possession of a dangerous weapon while illegally manufacturing unlawful alcohol, 28 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty and one count of transporting illegally acquired alcohol. Joyce Davis, 61, posted a $5,000 bond. She is facing 28 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty.
Around 9 a.m. Monday, special agents with the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) served a warrant at Davis’ home for operating an illegal moonshine still. Agents seized the distillery, several firearms and a large number of malnourished hunting dogs, fighting chickens, two hogs and two horses.
ABC and USDA agents were assisted by nine other local, state and federal agencies, including the Humane Society, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, U.S. Department of Agriculture and members of the Nelson County Sheriff’s Office.
One neighbor, speaking on the raid, told CBS19, “It’s a long time coming.”
The Humane Society set up a staging area one-quarter mile from the home to begin processing the animals and removing them from the property. It included a mobile veterinary clinic from Roanoke and a horse trailer. Each animal was examined at the mobile clinic and loaded into one of two tractor trailers to be moved to a temporary emergency shelter while the case is in the court system.
How long the abuse and neglect has been going on depends on who you talk to.
The President of the Nelson County Humane Society, Betty Grahame, says her office has fielded numerous calls over the years about alleged animal abuse on the Davis property, and as recently as a few months ago reported it to Nelson County Animal Control.
“Animal control told us they were familiar with the situation and they had been up there. They felt his animals were being cared for, so they didn’t feel there was any need for people to be concerned. We let it go at that point,” she told CBS19.
Officials with animal control told CBS19 they made several visits to the Davis property in the past year and never found signs of neglect or abuse. However, the 25 members of the Humane Society who were at the residence Monday paint a very different picture, reporting the animals were in “very poor condition”.
Neighbors also told CBS19 Davis is known to hunt black bears. “I’ve known him for a long time, he's lived here at least as long as I have. I’ve known to have a lot of animals and to have done a lot of hunting,” said neighbor Brian Roberts.
When asked officials told CBS19 they are investigating reports that he was selling bear gallbladders on the black market, but would neither confirm nor deny the allegations.
The American Bear Association (ABA) says the gallbladders are unique because bears are the only animal that produces large amounts of bile, an ingredient used in traditional medicine for centuries. The ABA says ingredients from bear gallbladders can treat health issues like high blood pressure, jaundice, diabetes and heart disease.
Officials say fakes have flooded the market, leading some people to go to extraordinary lengths to obtain authentic gallbladders. The ABA says bear gallbladders can sell for thousands of dollars in some countries, which has lead to an increase in poaching.
Tracy Davis will remain behind bars until his first court hearing, which will be next week at the earliest.
ABC officials say the investigation is ongoing and additional charges may be forthcoming.