FBI Launches Investigation of Cesar Parra on Allegations of Human Trafficking Involving Working Visas for Foreign Employees

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Cesar Parra on Van the Man at the Global Dressage Festival in 2014. © Ken Braddick/DRESSAGE-NEWS.com

Feb 8, 2024

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

The FBI–Federal Bureau of Investigation–has launched an investigation of Cesar Parra on allegations of human trafficking by imposing controls on foreign employees on visas in violation of both U.S. and Florida laws. As many as 40 complaints are reported by sources to have been received.

Former foreign employees have reported to authorities and confirmed to dressage-news.com that Parra imposed rules that implied he had the power to withdraw visas to work in the U.S. that kept many employees working at his training centers in New Jersey and Florida. The New Jersey facility was sold last year and operation were consolidated in Jupiter, a wealthy community 30 miles/49km north of Wellington.

Conviction on human trafficking charges that includes “forced labor” carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison plus fines, but in the worst cases life imprisonment.

At the same time, the German federation has labeled the behavior of two dealers who provided horses to Parra as “criminal” and referred the case to government agencies that have “far greater investigative and sanctioning options.”

The U.S. federation has said little beyond the initial description of the videos displaying abuse of horses by Parra as “appalling and abhorrent” and that it worked with the FEI–the International Equestrian Federation–that “provisionally suspended” Parra from competition.

A U.S. federation spokesperson responded when asked by dressage-news.com about its Florida investigation: “We will not comment on details surrounding any investigation.”

However, virtually the entire top USEF management has been in Florida this week, with three officials at the Global Dressage Festival on Thursday.

USEF President Tom O’Mara, Chief Executive Officer William Moroney and Chief of Sport David O’Connor. © 2024 Ken Braddick/DRESSAGE-NEWS.com

Sonja Keating, general counsel and USEF chief operations officer, met with Adam Steffens-Smienk and, his husband, Sven Smienk, a Dutch citizen who rides for Canada, and was an employee at the Parra barn in Jupiter.

Videos of horse abuse that had been provided first to the U.S. federation but led to no action were then posted on the Internet by Adam and Parra employees that blew open the case.

Meantime, the German equestrian federation on Thursday reported it has taken action against two dealers who provided horses to Parra.

“What can be seen in the videos and images is disgusting. We will pull out all the stops to take action against this,” German federation General Secretary Soenke Lauterbach was quoted in a news release. “Our legal options as a sports association are not sufficient for such behavior. This is about criminal relevance, which is why we are turning to the state authorities, who have far greater investigative and sanctioning options.”

Thies Kaspareit, head of the German federation’s training department, said: “We all have a responsibility towards our horse partner and this case shows dramatically that there are people who do not live up to their responsibility. As an entire equestrian community, we are called upon to stand up for the horse and our responsibility towards him. We can only react if such cases in which pain, suffering or damage are caused to horses become public and provable.”