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Purdy accused of selling horse belonging to his ex daughter-in-law

Daily Inter Lake | September 28, 2021 7:00 AM

A Eureka man who allegedly admitted to selling a horse owned by his former daughter-in-law faces a felony theft of a commonly domesticated hoofed animal charge in Lincoln County District Court.

Joseph L. Purdy, 64, entered a not guilty plea at his Sept. 13 arraignment. The felony charge carries a maximum punishment of 10 years with the Montana State Prison, a fine of between $5,000 and $50,000, and forfeiture of the animal.

Eureka Police officer Gregori Neils began investigating Purdy in October 2020 after his former daughter-in-law told authorities she suspected he sold the animal “behind her back,” court documents said. The victim told Neils she bought the horse while she was married to Purdy’s son in 2015, using her own funds for the purchase. She got sole ownership of the horse following their 2017 divorce.

Despite the divorce, the horse stayed at the Purdy Ranch off and on for the next three years. In October 2019, she heard through the family grapevine that a woman had ridden the horse, named “Cruisin,” and offered to buy it. Not given any other details, like a potential dollar amount, the victim told Neils she disregarded the information.

In late July or early August 2020, she visited the Eureka ranch, but did not see Cruisin. When she asked her ex-husband about the horse’s absence, he told her that another woman was riding the animal elsewhere in the county. She prodded him for more information, but he deferred to his father, court documents said.

In October, the victim’s son told her that her ex-husband had sold the horse. When she confronted her ex by text message, he denied the allegation. He sent her a screenshot of a conversation he had with the elder Purdy. In it, Purdy allegedly wrote that he had not seen the victim ride the horse in three years and already warned her that he planned on selling the horse.

According to Neils’ affidavit, the screenshot also captured Purdy admitting to receiving $3,000 for the animal. He allegedly offered to give it to the victim’s ex-husband.

Pressed for more details, the ex-husband could only offer the name of the agent who arranged the sale.

The victim told Neils she lacked a written or verbal agreement with Purdy regarding the feeding and care of the horse. She did provide copies of the official paperwork proving her ownership of the animal, court documents said.

On Oct. 22, Neils spoke with Purdy and recorded the conversation. In it, Purdy allegedly acknowledged selling the horse. He told Neils that he warned both his son and the victim in the spring that “he’s getting rid of the horse because he didn’t want to feed it anymore and wanted to try and get some money out of it.” Neither his son nor former daughter-in-law had paid for the animal’s care, said Purdy, who also claimed his son had bought the animal back in 2015.

Purdy claimed to have put upwards of $13,000 into the animal, court documents said.

When Neils pressed him on the ownership of the horse, telling Purdy that he had the animal’s registration — which listed the victim — and the divorce decree, Purdy allegedly reiterated that his son bought the animal.

“…[He] went on to tell me to ask her where that horse has been the last three years since they have been divorced and went on to say that he had to feed it, shoe it and do all the vet work,” Neils wrote. “He stated he told [his son] last year and this year that he needed to get rid of the horse.”

Neils asked whether Purdy had contacted the victim directly. Purdy said he had tried, according to court documents.

Neils wrote that he could not conclusively determine from the meandering conversation whether Purdy had sold the animal or given it away. It also was unclear if the agent involved had made any money. Neils still lacked any information about the horse’s whereabouts or the individual that had bought it.

“Since the horse in question had already been sold for $3,000, I was unsure why Joe was telling me he hadn’t [received] any money from the sale or why he didn’t even know if [the agent] even got any money from the consignment,” Neils wrote. “It was pretty clear that he was withholding that information.”

About 20 minutes after the call ended, Purdy allegedly phoned back with the new owner’s name, according to the affidavit. Neils wrote that he found it deeply suspicious.

Purdy claimed the new owner had contacted him “since they heard there was drama over this horse situation,” court documents said.

Purdy turned over the name. Neils noted that it did not match the name on the bill of sale, which he already had obtained.

Neils eventually tracked the horse to Marion. In the meantime, Wes Seward, district investigator with the state Department of Livestock, reached out to him. In a separate report, Seward recalled telling Neils that they had enough information to determine ownership of the animal — and that it belonged to the victim.

He contacted the local inspector in Eureka and asked whether they had worked with Purdy recently. The inspector confirmed inspecting several horses for Purdy over the summer, passing along the dates, inspection numbers and descriptions.

Seward recalled running the information by the horse inspection clerk in Helena. On the inspection, the horse was listed as “grade,” meaning unregistered, he wrote. Facebook ads for the animal, though, listed it as registered, according to Seward.

“I then told [Neils] that in my opinion we should maybe look at pursuing theft charges … on Mr. Purdy,” Seward wrote.

According to Seward’s report, Neils checked first with the city attorney, who recommended the investigator bring it to the county attorney’s office.